Precourt Sports Ventures has the blessing of Major League Soccer to bring a franchise to Austin, but it will not be the Columbus Crew.
In the latest move after months of feints and pivots, MLS announced over the weekend that buyers have stepped forward to keep the Crew in Columbus, a move that would get the franchise out from under a lawsuit brought by the state of Ohio and the city of Columbus.
The league said in a statement that, despite those developments, “[T]here is a clear path forward for PSV (Precourt Sports Ventures) to operate Austin FC (Football Club) as a Major League Soccer club.” Exactly which franchise would relocate or how a team might be put together for Austin was not explained by MLS.
The announcement, which came a surprise to soccer followers in both Columbus and Austin, only hardened the resolve of activists who have been gathering signatures on a petition that seeks to give taxpayers the final say on a soccer deal in Austin. The council in August approved a preliminary contract for a $200 million stadium at city-owned McKalla Place to serve the Crew — or whichever MLS team moves to Austin.
“This just makes it all the more apparent what a bad deal the mayor and the city council agreed to,” Linda Curtis, whose political action committee, indyAUSTIN, is heading the petition drive, told The Texas Monitor Monday. “We will continue to force a public vote on this and hope someone sues the city after they sign the contract.”
Bill Aleshire, who told The Texas Monitor last month he intended to sue Austin over its final contract with PSV, said Monday the prospect of a different franchise coming to Austin has not changed his intention.
Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement provided to the Monitor Monday, “From the city of Austin’s perspective this does not change the ongoing negotiations between the city and Precourt Sports Ventures. We look forward to bringing major league soccer and the community benefits that come with it to Austin and working with PSV on making that a reality.
“What a wonderful win/win/win solution! How wonderful that both Austin and Columbus will have a team,” he said. “And we’ll whup ‘em!”
Negotiations between the city and Precourt on a final term sheet continue, despite agreement in principle approved in August by Adler and a split city council.
Council members who opposed the deal, led by Leslie Pool, who fought for months against what she called a “massive giveaway,” were particularly unhappy they would not have a final vote on the term sheet. The lack of public input prompted Curtis to begin her petition drive.
Meanwhile, a judge in Franklin County, Ohio, said that state had grounds to sue Precourt to keep the Crew in Columbus because the franchise had gotten $6.6 million from the state and the city over the years for stadium improvements. Taxpayer support, according to state law, requires owners first try to sell their franchises locally, rather than relocate.
Late Friday, Major League Soccer announced that Jimmy and Dee Haslam, owners of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and the Edwards family, Columbus real estate developers, were partnering to buy the Columbus Crew.
“MLS is committed to keeping Crew SC (Soccer Club) in Columbus, should we continue to make progress on these critical components and agree to key terms with the investor group,” the MLS statement said.
While Pool and other council opponents negotiated for a much better deal for taxpayers, Adler and the council majority rejected the idea of requiring millions more in further concessions by Precourt.
Citizen opponents like Curtis objected to the council’s agreeing to lease McKalla’s 24 acres to Precourt for a stadium while at the same time asking voters on Nov. 6 to pass a $250 million bond for affordable housing, which could have been built at McKalla.
Travis County commissioners voted to keep open the option of suing over the tax exemption Adler and the council majority granted to Precourt as part of the agreement in principle.
If Precourt and MLS make good on their promises to Austin, the new franchise will be competing with the Austin Bold FC, the newest member of the lower-level professional United Soccer League.
Bobby Epstein, who made an unsuccessful pitch to lure Precourt to play their games at the Circuit of the Americas in far east Austin, will instead field his own team in 2019 at the Circuit’s 5,000-seat stadium.
“Yesterday’s announcement is not a big surprise,” Epstein told the Columbus Dispatch after the Columbus Crew deal was announced. “Locally-born professional soccer, in a soccer specific stadium, is still coming [to Austin] in 2019.”
“We now have a USL team in Austin on private land financed by private investors,” Curtis said. “There is no market data that would support the need for city taxpayers to subsidize an additional team or that the soccer market can support two leagues in Austin. This is a ridiculous deal that makes no sense.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].