Soccer / mls

jon.bonomo
How Soccer was Saved in Ohio: A Christmas Story
Gather around the yule log and grab your hot coco because I’m going to tell you one the greatest soccer Christmas stories ever told. Doubtfully any of you remember way back months ago, when Scorum was running the writer’s contest My Favorite Team, I wrote about my dearly beloved Columbus Crew. The Crew are a rather obscure MLS club based in Columbus Ohio and the nearest MLS team to my hometown. Thus why I became a supporter. I would love to wax on about the history, tradition and accomplishments of the Columbus Crew, but this post is not about that. For those interested I urge you to read more about the Crew here. I only mention this as a prelude to the story I’m about to tell you. Perhaps the MLS history books will remember this as the greatest footballing Christmas story ever told. Scrooge Anthony Precourt plays our Scrooge in this story. He’s snake, a huckster, a liar and a cheat. But unlike the historical Ebenezer Scrooge, Anthony Precourt never had a change of heart, and he also happens to be the owner of the Columbus Crew, well until just a few days ago. Anthony Precourt is an American investor who lives in California. He manages a private investment firm, and they purchased the Columbus Crew back in 2013. Mind you they have no connection to Ohio or soccer, nor do they ever show their faces in Ohio.Columbus Crew sold to Precourt Sports Ventures, which pledges to keep team in Columbus Throughout this post I will be dropping links to publications that will help expand on what I am telling you here. For brevity’s sake, I cannot go into all the fine details of this sage, so for those interested, please find links for more reading. For example, the ironic article that was published in '13 when Precourt purchased the name, claiming they wouldn't relocate. Hence why he is a liar and a thief. After purchasing the team, many crew fans were intentionally pleased with Anthony Precourt. The new owners kicked off an rebranding initiative called "The New Crew." Although some of the marketing choices seemed poor, generally people were pleased with the end result. The once good owner had turned a backstabbing Grinch who sought to steal something that was not his to take. The Ghost of Soccer Past Those on the outside might wonder why the Columbus Crew found themselves in such a bad situation in the first place. As previously mentioned, the Crew are a small market team based in rural Midwest America, not the first place you would expect to find a thriving soccer franchise; however, you would be wrong to think that. Ohio might not be the soccer capital of the World but it has a long tradition with the sport. It happens that the Crew’s home was the first soccer specific stadium ever built in the country. It’s hosted countless USMNT WC qualifiers and other international games. Additionally, in 1996 Crew were only 1 of 10 founding inaugural teams in the MLS which has now expanded to 24.Columbus Crew might move because 'business is struggling.' Financial records suggest otherwise Despite the cult love for soccer in the state, the Crew struggle to bring the attendance that many other MLS clubs do on a weekly basis. Once again, it’s a small market team. Everyone knows this. We aren’t LA Galaxy. We aren’t NY Red Bulls. We don’t want to be. But despite the low attendance, the Crew remain cash positive. Part of Precourt's ruse was to cook the books and make it appear the Crew were hurting financially when they weren't. Precourt and the California investor groups saw a cheap team based in Ohio and money signs flashed in front of their eyes. What they thought they saw was a struggling team financially, although not on the pitch, and hatched a crooked scheme to buy the team while they were cheap and move them to a bigger market. And it almost worked. For those unfamiliar with how MLS structure works, it is similar to other American sports leagues like the NBA and NFL insofar as the teams are franchises and fall under the ownership of the league. Thus, expansion teams can enter the league if they meet certain criteria while teams can go defunk and no longer exist. Right now is not the time to go into the opaque rules of MLS as they are needlessly complex. The point being that if Anthony Precourt sought to buy the Crew and relocate them to Austin he could only do it with the blessing of the league. Behind closed doors the league conspired to help Precourt undermine their very own rules in order to relocate the franchise.Goodbye, Columbus. You didn’t deserve to be abandoned by the Crew. Understand this: upon purchasing a franchise within the MLS the owner agrees to not relocate or move the team for 10 years. This is a default MLS policy, but when Anthony Precourt bought the team, hidden deep in the fine print of the contract existed an underwriting policy basically saying you cannot move the team for 10 years unless it’s to Austin, Texas. And there you have it boys and girls, from the very beginning, back before the rebranding, when Precourt initially purchased the team, the league colluded with him to allow the upheaval of one of the founding teams of MLS, a home of the USMNT, and the first soccer specific stadium in America which was all tossed aside so one owner and the league could potentially make slightly more money elsewhere. Greed has rotted your soul, Ebenezer Scrooge The Ghost of Soccer Present Source: SBNation But unlike Scrooge in the classic Dickson Christmas Carol, Precourt and the MLS never had a change of heart. Crisis was adverted because of legal justice not because of grace. The very crux of their dirty conspiracy, hinging on the fine print line in their buying contract allowing them to move the team, would also be their undoing. Because also tucked in the fine print of Ohio State Legislation is a little statute called the Art Modell Law. NFL historians will be quite familiar with that name, as he was once an owner of an Ohio based NFL team that was ripped from their home in Cleveland and moved to Baltimore.Meet the man who inadvertently saved the Columbus Crew The Art Modell Law states that no team receiving Ohio tax money can be relocated outside of the state. Whoops. Didn’t see that one coming. That’s going to be a big problem for Precourt and the League. A casual Crew fan and top Ohio Agriculture Attorney discovered the law when doing unrelated research. Not having the ability to do much, he forwarded the information to a close friend and diehard Crew fan whose father happens to be a Ohio State Representative. From there it was taken to the Ohio State Attorney General who subsequently sued Precourt and MLS for attempting to break Ohio State Law. And the hammer of justice was swift, and Precourt’s party was spoiled. The relocation was not going to happen. Party’s over. The Ghost of Soccer Future Precourt and MLS quickly found themselves entangled in a legal battle. While the #SaveTheCrew beat the drum of opposition, fanning the flames of resentment towards the owners and the league, the State Attorney General confronted them in court. It all became too much for them. Clearly the people of Ohio were not going to allow the move to happen. Fans dug their heels in and opposed the league and ownership at every turn. Ohio Legislators blocked the move through legal channels, and Precourt's criminal scheme was brought to an end. Yay, the Crew are safe but what about everything that just happened? Surely we can’t just pretend like none of it happened? And we didn’t.Columbus Crew Set to Avoid Austin Move After New Local Buyers Emerge The first task was to get Precourt out of the picture. For that, we needed new owners. Several owner groups tried to purchase the team when Precourt first announced he was going to move the team, but he would not sell to anyone. He wanted to hold the club hostage. However, once the move was brought to an end, he became much more open about selling the team. A new owner group based in Tennessee came forward and purchased the team. The new owners also happen to be partial owners of the Cleveland Browns, the NFL team that I previously mentioned that was moved from Cleveland to Baltimore. The new owners are very empathetic to the Crew cause. The second task was to get the Crew a new stadium. A stadium deal was at the heart of the relocation attempts. Precourt wanted a new stadium for the Crew, but when he didn’t get the offers he wanted, he threatened to move the team, claiming Austin would give him a more favorable deal. Ohio House approves $15 million for new Crew stadium However, the city of Columbus was more than happy to work with the owners for a new stadium, and that’s exactly what has happened. While the ink is still drying on the contracts, the new owners have pledged $50 million and the city of Columbus has pledge $50 million to build a new stadium in the Arena District in downtown Columbus, while also getting some money from the state. The new stadium dream is finally coming true. The Happy Ending Source: The Columbus Dispatch After an upsetting season Crew fans are finally able to be happy again. Our beloved manager Gregg Berhalter who helped see us through this terrible times will also be departing us. It’s a bittersweet goodbye. As of about a month ago Berhalter was offered the USMNT manager position.Gregg Berhalter Named Head Coach of U.S. Men's National Team He will be well suited for the position having been a USMNT player for years. He’s a great tactician and does well with man management. He understands the American mentality and can help shape this national team into something halfway respectable. He certainly has his work cut out for him in that regard. For the Crew, they are mulling over who will replace Berhalter and pushing forward with the stadium plans. Through dark times the Black and Gold have now got a new lease on life. I’m proud of you, Columbus. _______________________________________________________________________________________
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