Major League Soccer features several great rivalries, including the Cascadia Cup (Seattle Sounders FC, Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps) and the California Classico (Los Angeles Galaxy/San Jose Earthquakes). Unfortunately, the Columbus Crew SC have struggled to build such a rivalry, despite the efforts made by the league to force passion in matches with the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC.
However, MLS has a chance to provide a homemade rivalry already in the making by pairing the soon-to-be expansion FC Cincinnati with the Crew. That rivalry, nicknamed “Hell is Real,” is already in jeopardy with the possibility of a Crew move to Austin for 2019. Below is a timeline of noteworthy articles detailing the story of the Crew’s possible departure:
(Note: Some articles are available through subscription)
July 30, 2013 – The Hunt Sports Group sold the Crew to Anthony Precourt of Precourt Sports Ventures, LLC (PSV) for $68 million, which broke the MLS record for the sale of an existing team by $11 million. Precourt purchased the team at time when it was struggling on the pitch and attendance was down. He did state that “I see so much opportunity here in Columbus … we have all the resources we need to make the Crew increasingly relevant locally and nationally, stronger financially and more competitive on the field.”
Oct. 16, 2017 – The news broke that the Crew could be relocating to Austin, Texas. Columbus Post-Dispatch reporter Michael Arace was among the first to report that there was a clause in the deal selling the Crew to Precourt allowing him to relocate the franchise to Austin.
Oct. 17 – Precourt gave an exclusive interview to ESPN FC. He noted that there needed to be “a dramatic change” to attendance and other issues in order for the club to remain in Columbus. Precourt cited the antiquated nature of MAPFRE Stadium as well the fact the area around the stadium is not a “destination” for fans. Also, Austin fans expressed sympathy for Columbus supporters but want an MLS team. Finally, Arace noted that while Precourt does have a point, but he’s going about it the wrong way.
Oct. 18 – Austin Business Journal (subscription) published a profile on Precourt, which outlined his business career and connections. Meanwhile, The Columbus Dispatch’s Andrew Erickson wrote that the Crew were likely leaving Columbus without a downtown stadium. He also outlined what he knew of the process in Austin. Rob Oller published his own piece pointing out that Precourt knows this is personal, not business.
Oct. 21 – The Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace railed against PSV’s behavior concerning the possible relocation of the team.
Oct. 22 – A new movement called Save the Crew mobilizes quickly. A rally is held protesting the potential move to Austin in Columbus. A couple thousand fans vocalized their passion for the team and disgust over PSV’s behavior. Save the Crew eventually creates a website to help keep fans informed.
Oct. 31 – The Massive Report publishes a set of emails from a hoaxer impersonating MLS president Mark Abbott and actual PSV president Dave Greeley. The emails shed light on PSV’s attitude towards the people of Columbus and the potential move to Austin.
Nov. 3 – Columbus Business Journal reported that PSV is charging prospective sponsors more, effectively killing their sponsorship prospects.
Nov. 7 – MLS commissioner Don Garber, Precourt, Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther, and Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer set a Nov. 15, date for a meeting in New York to discuss the Crew’s future.
Nov. 14 – Tim Myers, in support of Save the Crew, released “What’s the Truth? Some Actual Columbus Crew Metrics for MLS Consideration.” The 33-page document made a strong case for the Crew and pointed the finger back at MLS and PSV.
Dec. 7-9 – PSV revealed artist renderings for a stadium in Austin. However, Austin City Council members wanted the preferred site removed from building consideration. PSV later blasted Columbus in a letter to the people of Austin over downtown building property. One day later, Garber made the case that PSV has invested much into Columbus with limited results. Instead, he blamed the Columbus market for its failures. The Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace pushed back on Garber’s argument a day later.
Jan. 4, 2018 – Austin Sports Law Blog’s Pete Reid outlined the PSV-Crew-Austin situation from more of an Austin point-of-view. He focused on the “Austin Clause” and its validity towards the end of the article.
Jan. 19 – MLS president Mark Abbott warned the “Sons of Ben” Philadelphia Union supporters group to stop chanting “Save the Crew” at the MLS Draft, or they would be asked to leave. Garber later backed off.
Jan. 25 – Garber appeared on the Planet Futbol podcast with Grant Wahl and detailed how the “Austin Clause” ended up in PSV’s deal to purchase the Crew. He also stated, “But I will tell you that we are as focused on keeping the team there [in Columbus] as Anthony is working to try to see if there are any other alternatives.”
Feb. 21 – The Guardian’s Tom Dart asked a key question: Does Austin want the Crew? He took a deeper look at the situation in Austin as PSV continued work on a stadium site.
March 1 – Precourt gave an interview detailing his plans for Austin to the Austin American-Statesman.
March 6 – Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit against PSV and MLS citing the state law (“Modell Law”) that requires Ohio sports team in publicly supported facilities to provide at least six months advance notice of a move. In addition, the law also requires that cities or those living close to the facilities in question be granted a chance to purchase the team. SI.com’s legal expert, Michael McCann, put together a detailed analysis of the lawsuit in the Planet Futbol column.
March 7 – Austin American-Statesman correspondent Chris Bils cited several legal experts surrounding the Ohio lawsuit against PSV and MLS. He noted a scenario where the team could still leave for Austin even if the state of Ohio wins the lawsuit.
March 16 – PSV presented “Commitment to the Community” letter to Austin.
March 26 – Washington Post soccer insider Steven Goff expressed his support for the city of Columbus but admitted it looks bleak for the Crew.
April 1 – KVUE in Austin profiled the Save The Crew Movement in Columbus.
April 9 – Columbus asked for more time to potentially buy the Crew.
April 20 – MLS and PSV filed a motion to dismiss Ohio’s lawsuit on the grounds that the league owns the team, not PSV, which would then void any adherence to the “Modell Law.” The motion also claimed that the Modell Law is unconstitutional. AG Mike DeWine also filed a motion of his own for discovery.
May 10 – Ohio’s lawsuit against MLS and PSV is paused for 90 days.
May 16 – WOSU’s Michael Lee and Clare Roth discussed the newest stadium site for PSV in Austin. They pointed out that PSV continues to demand a downtown stadium in Columbus, but the stadium in Austin would not be downtown either.
May 23 – #SavetheCrew announced that 5,000 fans had committed to season tickets for the 2019 season.
May 27 – The potential franchise move continued to make international news. The BBC took notice of the Crew-Austin situation and profiled it.
May 30 – Garber commented on the Ohio lawsuit to force the Crew to stay in Ohio in accordance with the “Modell Law.” He called it “unhelpful” and made the case that Columbus is not “viable” for the Crew at this time.
June 28 – Austin City Council approved a resolution to review PSV’s stadium proposal for McKalla Place in North Austin. Austin Business Journal also noted that competitive proposals for development could also be looked at.
Cincinnati Soccer Talk will continue to add to this timeline as time moves forward. At this point, at appears that MLS holds all of the cards in relation to the future of the Crew. There are already workarounds available to MLS and PSV even if the State of Ohio’s case against them succeeds. It appears there are two solutions for the Crew to stay in Columbus. The immediate solution is for Austin City Council to sell McKalla Place to a commercial developer instead of PSV. The long-term solution would need to be a concrete deal for a downtown stadium in Columbus. A third is also possible: an ownership group would need to come forward and make an offer that PSV cannot refuse. Time will tell if the fledgling Hell is Real rivalry can be maintained.