Sports teams move all the time. From football to basketball to hockey to baseball, if team owners aren’t getting the public funding they want, they will threaten to leave or actually relocate to get what they want. Last week, Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt announced that the team will relocate to Austin if it fails to get a new stadium. This is a demonstration that Major League Soccer is no different from the big four.
This topic is actually in the same vein as my post last week about Amazon. Much like the way that big corporations can threaten to relocate if cities won’t give them the subsidies they want, sports teams will leave in search of bigger money. Columbus fans are angry about this. Some fans, both of Columbus and of MLS in general, see this as legal racketeering; they demand a new stadium financed by increased public subsidies, creating a problem that isn’t really there, so that they can move somewhere else where they will receive more public funding. The financial burden for these new stadiums rests on taxpayers whose elected officials make these deals.
Columbus fans are adamant that a new stadium is not necessary and the team is not currently in any trouble; the current stadium is just 18 years old and the team is reportedly “perfectly viable” with room for growth and improvement. While these sports teams may say that having a shiny new stadium in a city brings growth and jobs, this has not been the case, likely because the owners keep most of the huge amounts of revenue that they receive from these teams. Precourt has also claimed that “no investor in Columbus presented a serious offer to invest in the club” and he has no choice but to move. However, several businesses had made serious offers to the club and the mayor of Columbus Andrew Ginther had been working with the private sector for sponsorships.
Fans of Columbus and of other MLS teams alike are expressing their contempt for the owner and his decision. For one, season ticket holders won’t be refunded for the 2018 season. What they are especially angry about is that this act feels premeditated; an owner who only purchased the team in 2013 deciding to up and move one of the league’s original teams is an act that seems to be written into Precourt’s 10-year agreement with the team. The purchase agreement included an escape clause that stated that the team couldn’t be moved for ten years, except to Austin. If it were Precourt’s plan all along to move the team to Austin, that goes against what MLS is supposed to stand for: in contrast to the big four, they claim to stand for the game, the fans, growth, and stability, over profit. But for Precourt to use the fans, the city, and the team itself as pawns in his goal of profit, that’s not what MLS really stands for.