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Columbus Crew SC saved: MLS announces new ownership agreement

Nov 4, 2018; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Crew SC defender Jonathan Mensah (4) reacts after the end of the game against New York Red Bulls at Mapfre Stadium. (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

Major League Soccer reached an agreement in principle with the Haslam and Edwards families to assume ownership of Columbus Crew SC starting in January 2019.

“While we work to finalize the deal promptly, we want to state publicly the tremendous collaboration and community support for Crew SC, which has set the stage for a powerful plan that includes a world-class soccer stadium — a critical step that will help ensure the club’s success on and off the field,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement released by the league Friday. “We appreciate all the diligent work from the Haslam and Edwards Families, the leadership from the Columbus Partnership, the City of Columbus, Franklin County and the State of Ohio, Precourt Sports Ventures, and all of those who have contributed over the past several months to create the elements that will solidify Crew SC’s long-term future as an integral part of the Columbus sports scene.”

Earlier in the day, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein announced the lawsuit against MLS was dropped by the city and state, clearing the way for the sale to be finalized.

“From the start, this litigation was about keeping the Crew in Columbus, and I believe we are finally there. After having conversations with the new ownership group, I believe that it’s time to tentatively dismiss the lawsuit so that the deal can be finalized, and once it’s done, the case can be permanently closed,” Klein said. “I can’t thank #SaveTheCrew enough for having my back as we did the unexpected—we saved the Crew. I’m looking forward to celebrating the launch of the 2019 season right here in Columbus on March 2nd!”

Dee and Jimmy Haslam, owners of the NFL Cleveland Browns, partnered with local investor and Crew SC doctor Pete Edwards to save the franchise from relocation. They have been working with MLS and the city on a solution since the league first announced their involvement three months ago. MLS set an end-of-year deadline for all parties to come to an agreement.

“We are extremely grateful for the efforts of the Columbus community, as well as Crew SC fans, to help us efficiently complete and fulfill the requirements and deadlines set by Major League Soccer that will help ensure the success of Crew SC on and off the field,” Haslam and Edwards said in the statement. “Throughout our conversations, it’s been overwhelmingly clear that Crew SC belongs in Columbus, and we are thrilled to have reached an agreement in principle to assume an ownership position in Major League Soccer and to operate Columbus Crew SC. As the stewards of Crew SC, we will always be focused on building a championship caliber team that makes the city proud, creating dynamic and memorable fan experiences and deeply engaging the community to make a positive impact.”

The ownership group already is working on a new stadium plan in downtown Columbus. Earlier this month, Franklin county commissioners unanimously voted to approve their part of the funding for a $645 million plan that includes building the new stadium and developing a community sports park on the site of the current stadium.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, “Franklin County will cover about $45 million of the development costs, via annual payments of $2.5 million starting in 2020.”

The new investments and stadium location, along with renewed passion among a fanbase that successfully petitioned to #SaveTheCrew for the entire year should help address the attendance and viability concerns previously surrounding the franchise.

Outgoing Crew SC investor/operator Anthony Precourt, CEO of Precourt Sports Ventures, will continue to pursue an expansion team in Austin, Texas., which he hopes will launch in 2020.

“We are pleased with the lawsuit dismissal and the outcome that will ensure Major League Soccer teams in both Austin and Columbus,” Precourt said in the statement. “This elegant solution is the culmination of many months of hard work from Commissioner Garber, the Haslam and Edwards’ families, the local Columbus community, and Precourt Sports Ventures. We are happy for the people of Columbus and Crew SC supporters, who helped rally local government and business leaders to keep Crew SC in Columbus.  We are proud to have built a strong club which is in position to be successfully transitioned to new operators in 2019.”

 

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