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Jul 302013

Wow! Talk about a bombshell!

For the first time ever, the Columbus Crew will not be operated by Hunt Sports Group. The team’s new overlord Precourt Sports Ventures is led by Anthony Precourt, a young financial guru based out of San Francisco.

At first this sounds like the kind of news many of us had been hoping to hear for several years. While Lamar Hunt himself was more than good to Columbus, his sons have largely ignored the MASSIVE club in favor of FC Dallas and the Kansas City Chiefs. We’ve cried out for change and our cries have been heard by the soccer gods.

Initially I had some pretty negative vibes coming from this announcement. Precourt was downright awkward during the press conference, reading straight from a piece of paper laid out in front of him. He spoke more about MLS as a league than the Crew specifically at first. Don Garber himself welcomed Precourt as the newest “MLS owner” and Precourt took over the official MLS twitter account Tuesday night instead of that of the Crew. Then there’s the fact that Precourt and his group are based out of San Francisco, more than halfway across the country. Precourt made it clear he is staying in San Francisco, though he did say he’d be buying a second home in Columbus.

What worried me more than anything else was that Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman almost sounded like he was trying to convince himself as much as the rest of us when he said Precourt told him the club would “absolutely” stay in Columbus. Notice how Coleman said it for Precourt rather than Precourt himself saying it explicitly. It’s no secret Columbus is one of the 3-4 financially weakest teams in the league. It’s also no secret that new cities are popping daily as prospective homes to future MLS clubs.

You wouldn’t be completely off your rocker to suggest Precourt is, at the very least, considering the possibility of moving the Crew out of Columbus in the future. After all, when Clark Hunt had to backtrack after admitting he wanted to sell the club, he simultaneously assured us that the team would only be sold to a local ownership group. San Francisco is hardly right next door to Ohio.

Then there’s the timing of this announcement. The Crew have suffered back-to-back extra time backbreakers to a mediocre New England side and Toronto FC. Not only did Toronto snap a 400+ minute scoreless streak against Columbus, but they also won their first game at home in over a year. The significance of these two most recent results for Columbus cannot be overstated.

So why make the announcement now?

Most people will say it was done to calm an increasingly restless fan base. But I don’t believe that’s entirely accurate. The Hunts had made it clear they wanted out way back in February. To officially sell the team (effective immediately) after the two worst losses of the season suggests the Hunts were desperate to leave.

But why would PSV be so eager to seal the deal? Surely these last couple results would make them think twice about purchasing this team…?

This had me worried initially, but Precourt has been speaking out since the press conference and he has started to say some reassuring things. He took over the MLS twitter account, but spent the entire time answering questions about the Crew specifically. He confirmed there would be upgrades to the East side premier seating. He talked about how much he enjoys the team name and colors but wants to take a long, hard look at the badge. He said he would assess the team from top to bottom and start making a plan, as well as some personnel changes, once the season ends.

The more I hear him talk, the more I think maybe he’s serious about Columbus. PSV is less than a year old and Precourt himself is isn’t even 50 years old. Maybe the reason he needed so much help speaking at the press conference was because he’s new to this idea of owning a sports team. The fellas at Massive Report made a good point about how owning a sports team is more of a hobby than anything else for really old men who have made their wealth from something other than sports.

Everyone has to start somewhere, right? Maybe Precourt is simply learning about owning a sports team on the fly.

Still, it’s also possible Precourt entered the MLS single entity under the pretense that he’d watch over the Crew in Columbus until the rest of the league figured out where to move them. Perhaps the league has an interest in the actual Bay Area and not just San Jose. Precourt may simply be biding his time until a new option presents itself. According Clark Hunt, this sale took less than a year with Precourt approaching them initially back in December of last year.

The only thing we know for sure right now is that there are way more questions than answers surrounding PSV’s purchase of the Crew and the timing of the announcement. We’ll also have to wait until the end of the season before we get any sort of answer to any of the questions we all have.

In the meantime I suggest rocking out to Snow Patrol’s “Take Back The City” in the hope that there are bright days ahead for the Crew.

In Columbus.

Adam Uthe

VP of Content Development for GFT and proud supporter of Columbus Crew (MLS) and Liverpool FC (EPL). @AUtheGFT

  2 Responses to “Crew Ownership Change Leaves More Questions Than Answers”

  1. Great article. What is the current leasing situation between the Crew and their stadium? That may slow down any plans for relocation.

    • The original lease was for 25 years, so they’ve got about 10 left at this point. Lots of time to turn things around, but I’ll probably continue to be nervous until there’s a new stadium or the current one gets a legitimate, 8 figure upgrade.

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