Columbus city leaders' meeting with MLS, Precourt leave sides frustrated

A meeting to try to keep Columbus Crew SC from moving the franchise to Austin, Texas ended in acrimony on Tuesday.

The meeting, held in New York, was attended by Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and Alex Fischer, president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, a consortium of Columbus business leaders. Also in attendance was Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt and MLS commissioner Don Garber.

Mayor Ginther and Fischer were hoping to convince Precourt and MLS that there is a way to keep the Crew in Columbus. What resulted, however, was a pair of dueling press statements that were released on Wednesday, with each side blaming the other.

Mayor Ginther and Fischer criticized Precourt for refusing to commit to staying in Columbus.

"We know this is heartbreaking for the dedicated fans in Columbus and across the country who have shown unwavering support for the Columbus Crew SC," ths statement from mayor Ginther and Fischer said. "We are disappointed and frustrated.

"We were united in putting all options on the table, with the expectation in return that the MLS and ownership would cease pursuing moving the team to Austin. Great American cities do not get into bidding wars over sports teams to benefit private owners. Garber and Precourt were not willing to do that today.

"Once the league and owner are committed to Columbus, we stand ready, willing and able to support the team's success."

MLS and Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV) countered that no actionable plan or proposal had been put on the table by the city's leadership, and that those leaders had now indicated they were ceasing all communications with the league and Crew SC.

Precourt added that both PSV and the league entered the meeting with "open minds, no demands and a complete willingness to listen and entertain concrete ideas or a meaningful proposal from the city's representatives at the meeting."

He added: "We were extremely disappointed that no concrete offer or proposal was presented and then told by the City of Columbus that it would not communicate with us past today."

Precourt announced last month that he would "explore strategic alternatives to ensure the long-term viability of the club." These consisted of either remaining in Columbus contingent on the construction of a new stadium, or relocating the team to Austin. He cited business metrics that showed the Crew rank in the bottom three in MLS in terms of attendance, season ticket holders, and sponsorships.

What has ensued since then has been a passionate reaction from the Crew fan base, with the hash tag #SaveTheCrew a steady presence on social media and elsewhere. But by all appearances, Precourt is forging ahead with the Austin option, with Austin's city government approving some initial steps to find the team a site for a new stadium.

The announcement has come at an awkward time for the team, as the Crew have been competing in the MLS Cup playoffs. They knocked off Atlanta United via penalty shootout in the knockout round, and then disposed of New York City FC in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Columbus will now face Toronto FC in the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals, in Columbus, next Tuesday.