Everything feels different. If you’re a Columbus Crew SC fan, or you know someone who is, you probably already know this. Since early January, when former team doctor Pete Edwards and Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam purchased the investor-operator rights to the Black & Gold, there’s been a different feeling around the club, a better feeling.
“It was a roller coaster ride for all of us involved,” captain Wil Trapp said of the last year at the Crew’s media day on Wednesday. “We couldn’t be happier to step foot on the field on Saturday. We get to just do our job with an ownership group that’s in our corner.”
Something that didn’t occur during the previous ownership group, was consistent visibility of the owners. Anthony Precourt popped up here and there, showing up to major events and occasionally taking it games but wasn’t around enough to ever feel truly invested. That is something that the new, local ownership is taking on as their responsibility.
Edwards and Dee Haslam attended Crew media on Wednesday, helping to announce the building of a new mini pitch for the community at Eakin Elementary as part of their ongoing tsk to make the Crew more involved in the city’s community. While Edwards has been all around Columbus of late, this is the second time in as many months that the ownership duo has made a public appearance together representing their club.
As part of their commitment to the Crew and being local owners, both the Edwards and Haslam families plan to continue to be involved and present, even after the initial buzz of a new era wears off. Both Haslam and Edwards plan to be at the home opener against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.
“You’ll see our family down there, our grandchildren. I can’t wait to get there. I’m very excited about it,” said Dee.
But it won’t stop there. When the Haslams can be at MAPFRE Stadium, they will be. When the family can make it to road games, they will do that as well. It will be a major difference than the occasional popping in of Precourt.
While not soccer people by trade, the Haslams are attempting to learn the sport as quickly as possible, another sign of their commitment to the Crew. Club President Tim Bezbatchenko has been working closely with the Haslam family and son-in-law J.W. Johnson, educating them on the sport and roster, saying “I’m spending a lot of time with all of our ownership group.”
For Edwards, soccer is second nature at this point. But there is also a sense of pride Edwards has now owning a team he’s been around from day one. From sitting on the sideline as the team doctor to now being an investor-operator, his commitment to the club is second to none.
“The energy in the stadium this weekend is going to be through the roof and that’s what we want,” Edwards said. “We want to have a fan experience that is as good as it can be and I think that’s what we’re going to have this weekend.”
On top of the soccer side of things kicking off this weekend, both the Haslam and Edwards families are firm believers in giving back to the community. In just the quick transition in ownership, the community engagement has been higher than expected, as evidence by their media day announcement.
“It makes me smile,” said Edwards. “I played sports my whole life. I think it’s really important in the fabric of the community to have sports opportunities. But there’s lots of information out there about how engaged kids do better in school and do better in life.”
“We really believe that athletics help children be healthy but also keeps then engaged and active in school,” she said. “So that’s our main goal is keeping these kids in school, growing healthy. For us, it’s a goal that we really strive for and are really excited to start that tradition here in Columbus.”
When in talks to purchase the club, the Haslam family found this community engagement as a common ground with Edwards. On the outside looking in, it seems as though this partnership was the right choice.
“Pete Edwards was the most perfect partner,” Haslam said.
“Twenty-five years ago when it was announced that the team was coming, he was one of the most excited people. He was the first team doctor, he’s been the team doctor all along. I know no one more passionate.”