Ohio AG, city of Columbus sue MLS and Crew SC over plans to move

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Columbus Crew SC got the better of Toronto FC in the first MLS match of 2018, handing the reigning champions a surprising home defeat. (2:01)

Major League Soccer and Columbus Crew SC owners Precourt Sports Ventures are being sued by the Ohio attorney general and the city of Columbus in an effort to keep the club from relocating to Austin, Texas.

The suit, filed on Monday, cites untested 1996 legislation known as the "Modell Law," which was passed in response to Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell moving the NFL team to Baltimore.

The law says a team receiving government funding must give six months notice as well as an opportunity for local groups to buy the team before moving.

Precourt Sports Ventures, led by owner Anthony Precourt, announced last year it will explore "dual options" to construct a new stadium in Columbus while also looking for a site in Austin, Texas.

The suit, which asks the court to prevent the team from moving without notice and to provide "a reasonable opportunity to buy" the team, comes after Precourt told the Austin American-Stateman last week that he is determined to move to the Texas capital.

"Today I have filed a lawsuit in Franklin County to try to #SaveTheCrew and keep the black and gold in Columbus," Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine said in a statement.

"Loyal Crew fans in Columbus have invested their time and loyalty in this team, and they have allowed the Crew SC to capitalize from financial incentives paid for by their tax dollars. I am left with no other choice than to file this suit to ensure our laws are followed."

The suit claims that Crew SC has accepted millions in tax-funded parking improvement and an economic development agreement, as well as a state property tax exemption and a below-market lease.

MLS and Precourt told the Associated Press they're reviewing the litigation and anticipated having more comment on Tuesday.

Precourt has offered to build a privately funded stadium in Austin but has found continued difficulty in finding suitable land in the city.

Precourt bought the team in 2013, and after he announced relocation plans last October, multiple reports said his purchase agreement included an out clause that allowed him to move the team to Austin before a mandated 10-year commitment in Columbus is up.

"The owner has said very clearly, 'I am going to pursue a path in Austin.' And the league approved that," MLS commissioner Don Garber told ESPN in December. "At the same time, I want to pursue a path in Columbus."

A meeting in New York in November between MLS, Precourt and a group of Columbus business leaders about options to keep the team in Ohio ended with both sides trading conflicting press releases.

Last year, San Antonio leaders also threatened legal action against MLS for allowing a move to Austin while simultaneously encouraging the nearby city to pursue plans for its own expansion team.

Crew SC began what could be its final season in Columbus on Saturday by defeating defending MLS champion Toronto FC 2-0 in Canada.