Serves me right for dawdling. Few things are more amusing to me than someone trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and failing miserably. That was Sunil’s press conference. Sure, he brought a lot of it on himself, but still.
“I don’t think Bruce’s resignation will be enough, sir. They want you to resign, too.”
“Hm. Time to turn on the ol’ Gulati charm!”
But we’ll have plenty of time, sadly, to discuss Sunil Gulati. There’s a bigger issue in MLS right now. Anthony Precourt is talking about moving the Columbus Crew to Austin’s city limits.
“Despite our investments and efforts, the current course is not sustainable,” Anthony Precourt, chief executive officer of Precourt Sports Ventures and chairman of Columbus Crew SC, said. “This Club has ambition to be a standard bearer in MLS, therefore we have no choice but to expand and explore all of our options. This includes a possible move to Austin, which is the largest metropolitan area in North America without a major league sports franchise. Soccer is the world’s game, and with Austin’s growing presence as an international city, combined with its strong multicultural foundation, MLS in Austin could be an ideal fit."
“As attendance League-wide continues to grow on a record-setting pace, and markets across the country seek to join MLS, Columbus’ situation is particularly concerning,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “Despite PSV’s significant investments and improvements on and off the field, Columbus Crew SC is near the bottom of the League in all business metrics and the Club’s stadium is no longer competitive with other venues across MLS. The League is very reluctant to allow teams to relocate, but based on these factors, we support PSV’s efforts to explore options outside of Columbus, including Austin, provided they find a suitable stadium location.”
In the words of Talleyrand, “Worse than a crime, a mistake.”
Usually I'd want to wait until the goldfish actually dies before flushing the toilet, but just announcing this publicly has done a lot of damage. This is an ugly milestone in Major League Soccer – a viable team leaving one market for another. What tiny moral obligation there was for American soccer fans to support MLS for the sake of the sport has evaporated. If you have a favorite MLS team, have a favorite MLS team. But if the soccer gods are capricious, Mammon is even more so. Holding cities hostage for public stadium money is something only the very biggest and greediest teams and leagues can even consider. I’m happy for Garber and Precourt that they think the Crew and MLS are in that category.
But I think Garber should be taking Mr. Precourt aside gently and telling him Aesop’s fable of the The Boy Who Wrecked Himself Because He Didn’t Check Himself. Precourt is one of Garber’s bosses, but he is only one of Garber’s bosses, and Precourt is more likely to be screwing things up than not.
In fact, with some care, attention, resources and hard work, it’s possible that this might even do more damage to the league than the US men’s national team missing the World Cup.
Garber and Precourt at least have the sense to cry poverty, but that doesn’t wash. Wimbledon had no stadium. Spartan Stadium was a poor (but hilarious) stadium for soccer even by 1996 standards, and as I remember San Jose State was sick of the Earthquakes messing up their turf anyway.
Meanwhile, Columbus Crew Stadium is a soccer-specific stadium. Pretty sure I read that somewhere. Hey, here are some fun facts. It hosted an MLS Cup in 2015, and a World Cup qualifier in 2016. If Yankee Stadium is suitable for Major League Soccer indefinitely, then so is Columbus Crew Stadium.
Another reason moving teams around is a short-sighted idea is that we’re currently in the middle of an expansion luau. Why should anyone pay an expansion fee when they can just skank an existing team? This may be good for individual owners in middling markets, but owners in more secure markets shouldn’t put up with it. Itinerant teams are less valuable than stable teams. Ask the Spanos family how much the Los Angeles Chargers are pulling in drawing less than the Galaxy.
This should also go without saying, but just because an immediate dollar value can’t be placed on fan loyalty does not mean that there won’t be financial consequences for abusing that loyalty. There is an event horizon to how much fans will pay for private entertainment at public expense, let alone public expense that continues after the private entertainment leaves town. Again, the Los Angeles Chargers leap to mind – but so does St. Louis, proud owners of the Whatever It’s Called Now Dome.
If Austin falls through – and these things do have a tendency to mash the undo button – then how does Precourt imagine he will sell any tickets in Ohio? Or, for that matter, in Texas? Overnight Anthony Precourt has taken fan loyalty that was way out of proportion to America’s mainstream acceptance, and tossed in the In-Sink-Erator. If this can happen to Columbus, the league’s first franchise, it can happen to anyone. Everyone’s stadium will be twenty years old someday.
There are a couple of other fairly obvious business considerations. I don’t know if Precourt has checked the Hexagonal standings, but the quadrennial World Cup bump has been postponed on orders from Bruce Arena and Román Torres. We’re about to find out whether the league can survive without oxygen being pumped in from the US men’s national team, and here’s this freaking guy acting like he owns an NFL team.
I’m also not sure if Precourt was clued in on the legal front, but the NASL is currently suing MLS as a conspirator to create a monopoly. Precourt moving his franchise states away based on a more attractive stadium deal is providing aid and comfort to the enemy. Even the NASL should be able to get some mileage out of this.
Even if you buy the premise that this is desirable, there’s no reason to aggravate literally thousands of fans in the middle of a lawsuit, a week after the lowest point in the history of the sport in America. The shortsighted clumsiness of it all is baffling. Toying with the loyalty of fans presupposes the loyalties are there to be toyed with. In 2017, that’s no longer a given, let alone for Major League Soccer. MLS might not be tall enough for this ride.
If Anthony Precourt wants a team in Austin, then let him have a team in Austin. Right after he sells the Columbus Crew and pays the expansion fee out of the proceeds.