Columbus till I die, Columbus till I die I know I am, I swear I am Columbus till I die…
These words of praise to one of the oldest clubs in Major League Soccer may no longer be sung in Mapfre stadium. Instead of singing, “Columbus till I die,” Columbus Crew fans are singing a new tune: “#SAVETHECREW.”
In mid-October, Anthony Precourt and Precourt Sports Ventures, owners of the Crew since 2013 announced that the fans should expect the team to move to Austin, Texas following the 2018 season if the team does not receive a new stadium.
The Crew is currently ranked 20th out of the 22 teams in the MLS in attendance, with an average of 15,495 people attending each game. Precourt is optimistic that moving the team to Austin will lead to an overall higher attendance and a more loyal fan base.
In response to Precourt’s demand for a new, privately-financed stadium to be built downtown, the mayor of Columbus, Andrew Ginther, has a plan to keep the Crew in Columbus. His goal is to have the Columbus Partnership, a non-profit organization of more than 60 CEOs from Columbus’ leading businesses, buy a majority of the franchise. He believes that the Crew can be prosperous if it stays.
Crew fans, who could potentially be left without a team to cheer for, remain hopeful. On October 26, during the Crew’s knockout round playoff game in Atlanta, a #SAVETHECREW banner was waved for all to see. The slogan appeared once again during ESPN College Gameday for the Ohio State vs. Penn State game.
“There is a lot of history here in Columbus, being one of the original MLS teams and I think that these fans are rooted in the idea of the team being historical and a part of the city.” says TJ Kirby, a Mechanical Engineering student at The Ohio State University as well as a fan of the Crew for the past four years. “I wouldn’t follow the Crew if they were to move,” he added.
Despite limited attendance, fans have argued that financially, the team is doing just fine. The Crew pay no property taxes and its annual rent is cheap compared to similarly-sized cities. While Denver’s Colorado Rapids pay taxes and $150,000 in rent each year, the Crew pays half that.
As the 25-year lease approaches its expiration date in the next five years, some speculate that Precourt is simply trying to strengthen his hand in bargaining for additional funding from the city of Columbus. They question the viability of moving to Austin; two lower league clubs have left the city in the last decade, and no professional sports team currently operates in the city.
The fact that the team has been playing well as of late, making it to the conference finals just last year, would make a potential move even more unfortunate for fans in the area.
As Columbus waits for a vote in June by the city of Austin, Ohio could potentially see the rise of a new MLS team: FC Cincinnati has the opportunity to join the league for the 2020 season. Until final decisions are made, however, fans will continue to be heard saying, #SAVETHECREW.