Wednesday was a special day in Columbus Crew SC history. At an event at the Ivory Room in downtown Columbus, new Crew owners Dee Haslam and Pete Edwards, along with new president Tim Bezbatchenko and head coach Caleb Porter, were introduced to fans and media for the first time. Haslam couldn’t stop smiling throughout the event that put a storybook ending to a dreary narrative.
It was a narrative that lasted 437 days and provided many twists and turns along the way. Last October, former team owner Anthony Precourt announced he was considering moving the team to Austin, Texas. Despite continued discourse of “parallel paths,” Precourt’s focus was on Austin and it was clear to all those who followed along. But Crew fans remained steadfast in their commitment to save the Crew and it was that commitment that caught Haslam’s attention.
“We know how important a sports team is to a community,” Haslam said. “So when we saw what was happening in Columbus, we needed to inquire about this. This is something we’d be interested in. It has a tremendous fanbase, it’s in Ohio and we felt like it was a great fit for our family.”
Dee, and her husband Jimmy are best known for their ownership of Pilot Flying J Travel Centers and their ownership of the Cleveland Browns, but Dee spent time as the chief executive officer of a television production company. She stepped down in April 2018 to focus on working with the Browns and the Cleveland community.
Haslam looks to apply a similar style in managing the Crew, while assisting the community throughout Central Ohio.
“I think a sports team can do so much for a community, not only does it bring everybody together, it doesn’t matter what walk of life you come from or what you believe,” she said. “It’s just that common ground. It’s the most exciting way to bring people together. It’s a great unifier. For us, it’s the opportunity to be part of something that unifies the community, everybody can get behind and be excited about, but provides an opportunity to give back.
Not only do you engage in the community in all different ways, but we’re going to be able to grow the sport of youth soccer and we believe that’s a really important part of youth. It keeps you engaged in school, keeps you active and healthy, there’s so many attributes that this can bring to this community.”
Both Haslam and Edwards have big plans now that they are officially the investor-operators of the Crew. They look to revolutionize the meaning of the term “sports owner” with their arrival in MLS. The business partners are eager to push the boundaries of what an owner should be.
“We are just keepers of the team and we are stewards of the organization,” Haslam said of the Crew. “We don’t feel like we own the team, it belongs to the community. We keep that top of mind in everything we do and so creating a great fan experience is a priority.”
Given the events of the last 14 months, Haslam’s words rejuvenated a fanbase who experienced a strained relationship with the previous ownership. Unlike Precourt, Haslam is keen on being present and involved in the community, with her family planning on buying a house in Columbus and being part of the corporate community.
“I think Columbus is just a tremendous city,” she said. “It is a growing city and soccer is a growing sport. It’s just a perfect match. I can’t think of a better match than Columbus and soccer.”