Major League Soccer has announced that an investment group comprised of Cleveland Browns owners the Haslam Family and the Edwards Family has reached an "agreement in principle" to acquire an ownership position in MLS, one that will see the group operate the Columbus Crew starting in January of 2019.
In a prepared statement, MLS commissioner Don Garber said he was "extremely pleased" that the deal had reached this stage, and he noted the contributions of the various stakeholders involved in keeping the Crew in Columbus.
"While we work to finalize the deal promptly, we want to state publicly the tremendous collaboration and community support for Crew SC, which has set the stage for a powerful plan that includes a world-class soccer stadium -- a critical step that will help ensure the club's success on and off the field.
"We appreciate all the diligent work from the Haslam and Edwards Families, the leadership from the Columbus Partnership, the City of Columbus, Franklin County and the State of Ohio, Precourt Sports Ventures, and all of those who have contributed over the past several months to create the elements that will solidify Crew SC's long-term future as an integral part of the Columbus sports scene."
Fourteen months ago, current owner Precourt Sports Ventures made public its plans to explore moving the franchise to Austin, Texas. That sparked a grassroots movement using the hashtag "#SaveTheCrew" involving fans and community leaders. The State of Ohio and the city of Columbus also filed a lawsuit against PSV and MLS, citing the state's Modell Law that prevents professional sports franchises that receive state funding from relocating without trying to sell to local owners first.
The backlash and litigation led MLS to reconsider moving the team, and once the Haslams and Edwards were recruited as potential investors, a compromise was reached whereby PSV would get a new team in Austin while the new ownership group would keep the team in Columbus. Community leaders announced earlier this month plans to build a new stadium as well as repurpose the team's current home, MAPFRE Stadium, into a training facility and community sports park.
The lawsuit was officially dismissed on Friday, clearing the way for the announcement.
"Throughout our conversations, it's been overwhelmingly clear that Crew SC belongs in Columbus, and we are thrilled to have reached an agreement in principle to assume an ownership position in Major League Soccer and to operate Columbus Crew SC," said Dee and Jimmy Haslam, along with Dr. Pete Edwards.
"As the stewards of Crew SC, we will always be focused on building a championship caliber team that makes the city proud, creating dynamic and memorable fan experiences and deeply engaging the community to make a positive impact."
The announcement should allow the team to confirm that Caleb Porter will be joining the Crew as its next manager, following the departure of Gregg Berhalter to the U.S. men's national team earlier this month.
The new ownership has also been actively recruiting a new sporting director with former LA Galaxy and U.S. manager Bruce Arena, former New York Red Bulls sporting director Ali Curtis and current Toronto FC GM Tim Bezbatchenko mentioned as candidates.