When Anthony Precourt purchased Columbus Crew SC from the Hunt Sports Group in 2013, many fans became uneasy with an “outsider” taking control of the first club in Major League Soccer.
What did a venture capitalist from San Francisco with no prior ownership experience want with MLS’s first franchise? Many feared the team would become expendable to the new owner.
Former ownership trusted Precourt as did then-mayor Michael Coleman.
He told members of the media that he and his ownership group remained “very committed” to keeping the Crew in Columbus and pledged that he wouldn’t be an absentee owner. He even spoke of buying a second home in Central Ohio.
Fans were reassured as the agreement between Precourt Sports Ventures and the Hunt Sports Group included a promise to keep the franchise in Columbus for at least 10 years. However, a then-unknown escape clause was included in the event that Precourt decided to move the team to Austin, TX.
Former Columbus Dispatch Crew beat writer Adam Jardy remembers when he first met Precourt on the day he bought the team. He recalled his first encounter with the Crew owner in an article he wrote this past Tuesday.
“When I asked him if there was any language in the deal binding him and/or the club to Columbus, he acted offended and gave a curt reply, repeating what he said publicly about being committed to the city.” - Adam Jardy
Fast forward to present day and trouble is on the horizon.
News broke late Monday evening about Precourt’s intention to move the Black & Gold to Austin barring the construction of a new downtown stadium.
Understandably, fans were upset and confused as information poured out from multiple sources. Supporters took to social media to vent their frustrations, but would have to wait for official answers when the Black & Gold owner was scheduled to meet with the media via teleconference Tuesday morning.
Precourt began the meeting by speaking of unprecedented growth in MLS and how the product has improved year over year, listing his accomplishments of the last 4 and a half years.
He then moved onto the bad news.
He stressed that PSV was beginning to explore “strategic alternatives” to secure the long term viability of the club due to the business struggling to keep pace with the rising standards of the league, match day attendance, an inability to grow the season ticket base and the disparity in match attendance and corporate support.
Precourt also felt it necessary to address the elephant in the room.
Just 12 hours prior, the Columbus Dispatch reported that Alex Fischer, CEO of the Columbus Partnership, along with a group of business leaders from around Central Ohio approached Precourt with offers to buy the Black & Gold outright and engage in a 50-50 partnership.
Precourt rejected both offers.
The Dispatch also reported a prospect of the new Austin franchise playing on the University of Texas campus should the franchise relocate. Another source also confirmed that Precourt had his heart set on playing at the University of Texas and that people at MLS headquarters weren’t exactly keen on the idea.
The investor/operator said that “misrepresentations” had been made and emphasized no relocation decision was final. Precourt told this to reporters despite having created the “MLS2ATX” domain, copy written under PSV, in August.
Precourt also denied other reports, or “misrepresentations.”
“We are not asking for public tax dollars and we are not asking either city to build a stadium for us,” he said. “Any conversations we’ve had in Columbus with potential investors center around a new, privately-funded stadium in the downtown area.
No investor in Columbus presented a serious offer to invest in the club while the team plays at MAPFRE Stadium. Not for 100 percent, not for 50 percent, not for any percentage. To say that a deal has been made to host games at UT-Austin is also premature.”
Tom Bosco, a reporter from ABC 6 in Columbus, continued to press the issue.
Precourt responded by denying the existence of the Columbus Partnership offer.
“We’ve had private conversations and they’re probably better to remain private,” he said. “At this time, I’m going to stay there. There were no serious offers made to me in regards to the Crew.”
Sources have told Massive Report that a $75 million bid was made to purchase just a half stake in the franchise. And was turned down. Precourt in his above quotes, denies this is the case.
Who isn’t telling the truth?
Many city officials seem blindsided by Precourt’s proclamation including Franklin County commissioner John O’Grady.
“If he needs a Downtown stadium, he should have said something,” O’Grady told The Dispatch. “That’s a weird negotiating ploy.”
Andrew Erickson of The Dispatch asked Precourt about the reaction from city officials, many of whom mimicked O’Grady’s reaction.
“Why, from the city aspect, were they kept in the dark and how can those conversations progress going forward?” said Erickson.
Precourt danced around the question, saying again that it was a “misrepresentation” and that he had been clear about his desire for a stadium since the beginning of 2016.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther told The Dispatch, the stadium discussion began only a few months ago.
Andrew King of MLSSoccer.com asked Precourt to field the hardest question of the teleconference. King asked, “Just last October you told The Columbus Dispatch you were, ‘tired of the insecurities Crew SC fans have about the team possibly moving.’ Now you’re openly considering moving the team. Do you feel like you maybe owe those Crew fans an apology for suggestions of unwavering commitment?”
It was an honest question and what King and the members of the media received was a shockingly honest answer. Precourt said that he stands by what he said and hopes that “you guys recognize the ambition” as the club tries to take the next step in Major League Soccer.
For those hoping for answers from Precourt this week, you did not get them. At least not ones that really answered the questions.
As Precourt made it clear, there are “misrepresentations” going on. It just remains unclear who is doing the misrepresenting.