With attendance low and corporate sponsorship weak over the last few years there were rumblings from the MLS puditocracy about the viability of the Columbus Crew. Newer teams expansion teams such as Toronto, Seattle, and Portland have raised the bar off the field with strong season ticket sales and corporate partnerships. These new teams were in contrast to a team that looked like it was being left behind.
Earlier today in a media event, both team owner Clark Hunt and MLS Commissioner Don Garber repeatedly stated their commitment to the team and the city of Columbus.
Hunt repeatedly talked about his father's legacy and how much the team and the stadium means to American soccer. The Hunt's have spent approximately 100 million dollars on the Crew since the team was founded, including privately financing Crew Stadium.
Responding to a question regarding multi-million dollar losses in recent years Hunt affirmed their support of the team, "From a family standpoint, we're committed to the market. We think that the Crew can once again be a leader in Major League Soccer and those types of concerns won't be an issue."
Garber, commenting on his second trip to Columbus in six months, noted his role to promote the league and it's team, "We're here to try to do what we can to insure the long-term viability of this club. There's a lot of things that we need to do to ensure that foundation so that we're here forever. People believe when they live in a community that their sports teams will always be a part of that community. As a professional sports team you want to add to that belief rather than create skepticism."
Garber also saw signs that the city may be ready to raise it's level of support. The commissioner noted the strong partnership between Columbus Mayor Coleman and the local corporate community and the benefit that provides, "You have guy that are wrangling all these big guys together and They are pledging their desire to do what they can to help" then adding "We need to see that belief turn into action and I have high expectations that we will"
Both Hunt and Garber were frank that certain challenges remain, expanding the season ticket base and strengthening ties to the corporate community. They were also unequivocally optimistic about the Crew. The team has made progress off the field since the Goal 10K program kicked off last September and the team has it's strongest ties to the corporate community in years. The key will be continuing that success both on and off the field.