A consortium that includes Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is closing in on a pact with MLS that would keep the Crew in Columbus, current owner Anthony Precourt had intended on moving the team to Austin. The announcement comes afterhio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein sued Precourt and MLS to prevent/stall the plans, claiming they violated the “Modell Law”; an Ohio ordinance that requires pro sports teams playing in taxpayer funded venues to give 6 months’ notice prior to any proposed relocation and to offer local buyers the opportunity to keep the franchise in the city. The proposed agreement, which includes plans for a new downtown soccer stadium in Columbus, gives Precourt the rights to the Austin market (largest without an MLS team) and the promise of an expansion franchise by 2021; the Austin city council has already approved plans to build a new $200 million stadium at McKalla Place.
Howie Long-Short: Should the deal be completed, it’s likely that the Haslam Group will purchase the rights to operate the Crew franchise from MLS, while Precourt maintains his equity stake in the league and Soccer United Marketing (the league’s for-profit arm).
Precourt wanted to move the club from Columbus because without a new stadium and a larger season ticket base, he didn’t believe the franchise was financially viable; so, plans to build a new venue in Columbus solves half the problem. The other half won’t be as easy, as Columbus ranks dead last (23rd) in league attendance (12,120) and they’re not within 2,000 fans of the 22nd ranked Chicago Fire (14,516). You can’t blame the apathy on market size either (though they are amongst the smallest in the league), FC Cincinnati (joining MLS in ‘19) plays in a smaller TV market (32 v. 34), against lesser competition and averages over 25,000 fans/game; a figure that would place them 4th in MLS (behind just Atlanta, Seattle and Toronto).
Fan Marino: It’ll be ironic if the “Modell Law”, named after Art Modell (the man who moved the Browns to Baltimore in ’96), is responsible for keeping the club in Ohio.
While Modell is most often associated with the franchise relocation to Baltimore, he was one of the NFL’s most influential owners. It was Pete Rozelle, Gene Klein and Modell that struck a deal with TV execs in ’62 changing the league’s fortunes forever; he also served on the committee that negotiated the AFL-NFL merger, pushed for revenue sharing in the league’s early days, worked on the first MNF contract and hired the league’s first African-American GM.
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