During halftime of Saturday’s MLS Cup Final, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber gave an interview with ESPN’s Taylor Twellman.
During that interview, which addressed several MLS topics, Twellman asked Garber about the situation between the league, Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt — who has said he might have to move his team to Austin, Texas — and the city of Columbus.
If you watched it during halftime of the Final, you only got part of the interview. Here is the full interview in video and text form:
Taylor Twellman: I don’t think we’ve ever seen this in American sports where you have cities vying for expansion rights, but yet one of the founding franchises of this league in Columbus is talking about relocating. How did it get to this point?
Don Garber: It’s been building to this point for some time. We are in a situation in Columbus and have been for many years where the team has been at the bottom of our league in attendance and revenue, in relevance frankly. And that’s a challenge and has the owner questioning, and the league questioning whether that team can be sustainable and viable in the years to come. Particularly when you have new teams coming in and raising the ball and levels that nobody dreamed of. So Anthony Precourt, who has been a good owner and doesn’t get enough credit for that — his team has been in the playoff four of five years — and he has been given persmission by us to persue an option in Austin. We are where we are and we’ll see where it plays out.
TT: Has Antony Precourt exhausted all the possibilities in Columbus in your mind
DG: I believe he’s exhausted it up ‘til now. And there’s a lot of energy now from the city, that wasn’t there prior by the way, to see whether or not they can keep the team in the market. We’ve had a meeting, as you know, with the mayor and some representatives of the city who have laid out some possibilities and have said, ‘Hey, we have some things that we’d like to talk to you about where we could keep the team here.’ But said, ‘If you’re going to continue to talk in Austin, we’re not going to lay those out and continue to discuss that with you.’ That’s a non stater. We are more than willing to talk to the city, Anthony Precourt is, to see if there’s a way to keep the team in, but he is going to have a parallel path that he’s talked about for some time to see what his opportunities are in Austin and we’ll see how it plays out.
TT: Dom, why have you, Major League Soccer and Anthony Precourt been so quiet on #SaveTheCrew?
DG: I very much respect the fact that fans don’t want to have their teams leave. They’re not wrong, I don’t blame them, they didn’t put themselves in this situation. The league and the owner did, and I understand it. But you need more than three or four thousand people who are real core supporters for the club. And we’ve been struggling to get corporate support, we’ve been struggling to get local television support, we’ve been struggling in all the things that teams need to be successful. But I’m not in anyway going to blame the fans. And I’m not blaming the city. I think we are in a situation where we’ll see if there’s a way to turn this around and if we can, then I think the Crew can stay. And if we can’t turn it around, then Anthony is going to try and pursue something else.
TT: So is there a chance that team could stay in Columbus?
TT: You are on social media as much as anyone and you’re well aware of how Major League Soccer supporters are a little concerned regarding their own franchise and they have anxiety of ‘If Columbus Crew can move, what would stop my owner from moving my franchise?’ What would you say to those MLS supporter?
DG: In every case, those moves require the owners to approve that move. And owners don’t like to do that and leagues don’t like to do that. You want stability. But you can’t have instability, which is what we have -- though I don’t know that people acknowledge it in Columbus. So I can assure all those fans that this is a unique situation. This league is 22 years old. We’ve moved one team. And we moved from San Jose to Houston. We came back to San Jose. It’s worked out really well in San Jose, though traumatic for a period of time, and it’s worked out really well in Houston. So I have to say that it’s not a concern that fans should have and I don’t know how this is going to play itself out, but we’re focused on being smart and thoughtful about it.
Following the clip during halftime, the broadcast crew of Max Bretos, Alejandro Moreno and Casey Keller reacted. Moreno, who played for Crew SC from 2007-09 and won an MLS Cup with the club, had some interesting points to make.
Here is what those two had to say:
Alejandro Moreno: It’s the company line. It has been business metrics for a while. What I would say is that there are reports coming out of Columbus that give you the other side of the story and that is that the Columbus Crew haven’t had a presence in the community for a while. That the Hispanic outreach program is not quite what it used to be. That the activities that brought together the fans with the players are not what they used to be. If all of that is true, that is the ownership’s version of tanking, at least from the front office perspective. That is unacceptable. We need to see the other side of the story as well.
Casey Keller: It’s really important. This is a single-entity-ownership league. This is a case where you’re always being held accountable to your least-common denominator and in the end it has to be a business model as well. I don’t want teams to be moved. I love what the Columbus Crew has done from the outset. But in the end, it has to be a viable business. It has to bring the rest of the league up. And we all hope it can be and that it doesn’t have to be over.
AM: You have to respect your history. You have to respect your roots. You’ve got to know where you came from.
Take that all in for a few minutes and we’ll let you all draw your own conclusions.