Supporters are what set soccer apart from the other professional sports and no one knows that more than the leadership of Major League Soccer. This can be demonstrated by the fact that supporters are the cornerstone of almost all marketing efforts from the league. Even during spells of bad club performance, supporters help to maintain a fertile environment where casual fans can be exposed to the soccer culture and can be transformed into passionate die hard supporters. The relationship that is built up around a club from the ownership, front office, the players, and down through the supporters and casual fans helps to build and reinforce a closely knit community of people with a shared passion.
However, breaking that relationship has consequences.
As most of us are aware of now, Precourt Sports Ventures, the ownership of the Columbus Crew SC announced their intention to move the club to Austin, TX unless an agreement could be reached on a new stadium in downtown Columbus.
A skeptical and open mind is necessary to understand such a complex and confusing decision such as relocating one of the original MLS franchises. Upon reviewing the reporting, it is difficult to draw any conclusion other than that it is has been the original goal of Precourt Sports Ventures to relocate the Crew to Austin. This is evident in the original agreements signed by Precourt Sports Group in 2013, which stipulated the club remain in Columbus for at least 10 years except for the escape clause put there allowing a move specifically to Austin, TX.
We empathize with the entire Crew SC supporters community. On the eve of a playoff run, they were set to contend with this distraction, which likely diverted enjoyment from this playoff run, and the now the 2018 season. Supporters and fans that have dedicated their time, money and effort towards growing the club and game in Columbus are to be hanged out to dry with little to no warning.
We are not naive to business dynamics of soccer. We can understand facts and hard realities. As put succinctly here by SI.com’s Brian Strauss:
“Sometimes, teams die. There’s a threshold. Chivas USA hit it. But that was a flawed idea, poorly executed. The Crew are far from death’s door. They may not be the most robust, ambitious, flashy MLS member, but plenty of teams around the world survive, entertain, contribute and win with less.”
We believe that this was a calculated and callous decision by Precourt with the tacit endorsement of the other franchisees in MLS. With franchise fees exceeding $100 million dollars now, the relocation of the Crew to Austin appears to be a convenient way to clear the market to allow FC Cincinnati to enter the league and pay a lucrative franchise fee. High franchise fees and relocating teams might aid in growing the league's coffers, but represents terrible customer relations. Perhaps MLS should give pause to consider if the short term financial gains will be worth the damage done to the supporters relationship as well as to the cities that host them.
We ask that our New England Revolution ownership give their time in considering the impact to the supporters, the future of MLS and the game we all love if this move were to take place. We ask that the Revolution ownership stand up for what is right by all parties involved and fight to keep the Columbus Crew SC in Columbus.
Alienating your supporters has consequences. Don’t underestimate the power of a united supporter groups across MLS and their ability to respond to such violations. The league should be appalled, not complicit in such mistreatment to loyal fans.
-Rebel HQ Board