Buy, Bye? Why RSL Fans Should Worry About Columbus

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It was Frank Sinatra who once quipped that "Las Vegas is the only place I know where money really talks - it says, 'Goodbye'."

Perhaps Columbus, Ohio might be an exception.

Earlier today, it was announced that the long-hyped meeting between Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt, and Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther had ended in a stalemate - no new downtown stadium deal, no new compromises made, and no understandings reached. In the immediate aftermath, both sides publicly expressed their disappointment in this final result - with Precourt's party placing blame squarely on the city, and the city retaliating in kind. Between this sort of petty squabble and further inaction, it looks as if the Crew's days in Columbus may be numbered.

I won't state too much about Precourt and his Sports Ventures - there's more than enough articles and Facebook comments out there to do the job. Fair to say, even if you aren't a die-hard Crew fan, there's enough stories floating around of Precourt's practices during his ownership that could make you wonder what his true intentions have been.

What should really concern us RSL fans in all this, I believe, is the position Major League Soccer has taken in this debacle.

First and foremost, it's interesting that the league would have even permitted the strange exit clause in Precourt's original deal to purchase the Crew in 2013 - one that specifically allows him to move the team to Austin whenever he sees fit to do so. Most new owners in American sports sign non-relocation agreements with both the city and the league, promising not to move the team for at least a certain number of years. Precourt certainly wasn't an exception there, signing a deal between his company and the league - so then, why, from MLS's perspective, would you allow for such a specific clause to be included?

Additionally, shortly after the announcement was made, Garber released a response stating the "particularly concerning" situation in Columbus, noting that the Crew were "near the bottom of the league in all business metrics" and subtly hinting at MAPFRE Stadium's inability to be "competitive with other venues in MLS." In Columbus' case, these seem like fairly odd claims to make: according to reports, the Crew shouldn't exactly be in financial trouble, and local business support for the team is at an all-time high. Match attendance, on average, hovers around 15,000 people - not phenomenal by any means, but enough to get through (and certainly higher than, say, Chivas USA's average attendances in it's final five years of operation). As for stadium issues, Garber himself has praised Precourt for his investments in the stadium - and it's location isn't unreasonably far from downtown. By most accounts, the Crew aren't exactly a failing team.

At the end of the day, what it seems to come down to is this: Precourt is offering Major League Soccer a chance at more money in moving the Crew than the team is currently worth in Columbus. What's worrying is, the league seems to be agreeing to play ball.

As RSL fans, we're lucky that a situation like this is currently outside our wheelhouse: support for the team is strong, major roots have been established throughout the community, and - importantly for this case - Dell Loy Hansen seems to want to continue the club's existence in Salt Lake. But, we're not totally unlike Columbus, and, as another small-market team who's past success has also depended highly on local support, it should be worrying to us that, in a case of owner versus fan base, Major League Soccer seems more committed in supporting the former.

But hey - I guess money talks.

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