The saga surrounding the potential move of Columbus Crew SC to Austin is another in a long line of potential seismic shifts throughout Major League Soccer’s short but turbulent history. If Anthony Precourt is allowed to move the Charter Member of Major League Soccer to Austin, it will effectively lay bare the falsehood that soccer clubs are a holy trinity of ownership, players, and fans. Maybe this is still true in some soccer hipster’s romanticized dreams of the ol’ neighbourhood footy club, but that doesn’t exist anymore. Not in England, and certainly not in the good ol’ U. S. of A.
Soccer is a business. Whether the business model is the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” promotion and relegation model or the more socialist leanings of franchises and a central league, the third of the holy trinity that owns the team doesn’t see the other sides as equals. They instead see employees and customers. While efforts should be made to keep both happy, at the end of the day both are replaceable. Players are routinely bought, sold, and traded, while fans come and go. There’s always going to be some suburban kid with Bernabeu dreams looking to watch his or her local club.
Perhaps this is an overly-cynical view of things, but leaking about moving your team after having finished collecting (non-refundable) season ticket renewals will tend to elicit that kind of response. Registering a website about putting an MLS team in Austin and holding meetings over the summer with the mayor of Austin about relocation can turn even the most level-headed among us jaded and cynical.
Let’s be clear what Anthony Precourt’s heist will do. It will effectively ensure Columbus doesn’t have a Major League Soccer club again. Owners will see it as an unworkable city, while residents will most likely not want to deal with the whims of a flighty owner should another club look to give Columbus another shot. It will lay waste to over 21 years worth of soccer culture in the American Heartland.
Perhaps even more troubling for those of us outside of Ohio who have no connection to the Crew whatsoever, it will signal to any owner that you’ll be able to up and move your franchise if you’re near the bottom of the league in all business metrics. If their club is not drawing well anymore and can’t get a brand new stadium in an expensive part of town, they can always look to auction it off to the highest bidder. There will always be an Austin, or Saint Louis, or Las Vegas, or some other thirsty mid-sized city with enough big league aspirations to raise taxes, float a bond, and give the predatory Anthony Precourts of the world either the greener pasture they seek or the ransom notice for current MLS cities to pay.
A fan of any Major League Soccer team should be worried about this, as this could happen to any of us. Attendances can sag over time. Newer stadiums in better locations will be built. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that the Union had a season ticket waiting list and plans to expand the stadium. A few bad seasons could see anyone - Seattle, Atlanta, Orlando - near the bottom of the league in key business metrics and looking to skip town. This could be anywhere.
Anyone with a vested interest in Major League Soccer should be vehemently against this heist. Owners (I know there are some reading this right now), you have the ultimate power to stop this.
Yes— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) October 17, 2017
Know that if this goes through, your fans will know you were complicit in this. Coaches and players (I know there are some reading this right now as well), speak out. Even if you don’t come directly out against this, saying things like “I’d hate to show up to work one day to find out we’re moving across the country in six months” will speak volumes.
Fellow fans, we hold perhaps the most sway. We are after all paying customers, and the unified voices of paying customers is hard to ignore. I’ve seen a ton of support for Crew fans - and they need that right now. But also pressure your club’s owners to do what’s in the best interest of the league and stop this from happening. Do it for them now so you don’t have to do it for yourself later.
Soccer clubs are indeed a business. But there’s a decision to be made now: are these businesses the integral parts of the community that they’ve always claimed to be, or simply transient pop-ups always ready to move on to the next town?