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Fisher pushes back at Garber; Suttle stresses the Aug. 9 deadline

It was a confusing day in the world of Save The Crew

MLS: MLS All-Star-MLS WORKS Legacy Project Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

There are some things updates with the ongoing effort by Precourt Sports Ventures to move Columbus Crew SC to Austin and those in Columbus trying to keep it at home. Let’s start at the top.

Alex Fischer Pushes Back at Don Garber

Following Jeffrey Carlisle’s report that MLS is involved in “ongoing talks” with the Columbus city leaders regarding Crew SC’s future in Ohio’s capital city, many fans of the Black & Gold were left scratching their heads as to what exactly that means.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber’s exact quote says that Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott, “met with the city to talk about what we might do together should the Crew leave Columbus.” That actual quote seems to suggest that these discussions are focused around the future of MLS in Columbus should Crew SC itself move to Austin rather than on selling the team to a local ownership group and granting Precourt an expansion team in Texas.

Columbus Partnership President and CEO Alex Fischer took issue with Garber characterizing the ongoing negotiations focused around Crew SC relocating to Austin. In comments to Andrew Erickson of the Columbus Dispatch, Fischer stated that his group is “not doing this as a plan for what happens if a team leaves Columbus,” rather they are actively working toward the “purchasing of the Crew with a group of interested owners.”

In that same article, Fischer pushed back on Garber’s comments regarding downtown stadiums. Garber mentioned that MLS wants all of its stadiums downtown and that the future of Crew SC in Columbus would depend upon securing a downtown stadium location.

PSV and the City of Austin are working on a plan to build a stadium at the McKalla Place site, which is nearly 12 miles from Austin’s downtown. Fischer told Erickson that he finds MLS’s support of a suburban Austin stadium “ironic” citing that building in McKalla Place was akin to putting a new Crew SC stadium at Buckeye Lake.

Hours later, Mark Abbott backed up his boss. Abbott told Erickson in an updated version of his story that Fischer’s comments were “unnecessary” and “unproductive.” Clearly, MLS and the Columbus Partnership are not on the same page.

Fischer’s statements, while heartening for the Save The Crew movement due to its pointing out the league’s hypocrisy, evince a clear miscommunication between MLS and the City of Columbus. The Columbus Partnership is focused on finding a resolution that sees Crew SC stay in Columbus while MLS is focused on checking its own boxes. Abbott and Garber are obviously supportive of their investor, Anthony Precourt, and seem to prefer a solution where Crew SC moves to Austin in a temporary venue while Columbus works on building a downtown stadium and potentially fields an expansion team in the future.

A similar situation occurred when the San Jose Earthquakes left for Houston following the 2005 season and returned to MLS in the 2008 season, missing two years of play. A hiatus may have been feasible in the landscape of mid-2000s MLS, but the destruction and the subsequent rebuild of staff and academies would put Crew SC far behind the rest of the league — not to mention the newly formed MLS side FC Cincinnati — should the team move to Austin and be rebuilt in Columbus a few years later.

Suttle Stresses the August 9 Deadline

On a busy Save The Crew news day, and on the eve of the Austin City Council’s Aug. 1 special meeting to discuss and hear public comment on a term sheet for a stadium at McKalla Place, PSV lobbyist Richard Suttle sent an email to Austin’s City Council and Mayor stressing that Aug. 9, 2018 is a “critical date for action” for a potential Crew SC relocation to Austin.

The term sheet, found here and discussed here, is not in itself an agreement. Rather, the term sheet is an agreement to negotiate a much, much larger stadium agreement along the terms found in the sheet itself. Even if the City of Austin vote to approve the term sheet, there are still multiple issues that will need to be ironed out between PSV and Austin including property taxes and transportation, among many other issues. Judging by PSV’s previous lack of communication with Austin and by Austin’s notorious political gridlock, it is unlikely that any sort of agreement would be reached before at least the Oct. 9 deadline to finalize an agreement found in the term sheet.

These facts make Suttle’s email even more confusing. There is already a vote on the term sheet scheduled for Aug. 9. If Suttle is suggesting that Aug. 9 is the date by which the full stadium agreement must be drafted and agreed upon, there is almost no way those details could be nailed down in the next 10 days. Suttle will likely speak at tomorrow’s special meeting to review the term sheet and will hopefully provide clarification as to what his deadline means. Stay tuned.