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Ohio attorney general threatens to invoke law that would keep Crew SC in Columbus

A law passed after the Cleveland Browns left could be used to keep the Columbus Crew from moving to Austin.

Colorado Rapids v Columbus Crew Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

In October, fans learned that Columbus Crew SC is set to move to Austin, Texas if it fails to reach an agreement with local government on a new downtown stadium. The most recent meeting between owner Anthony Precourt, MLS commissioner Don Garber, and Columbus officials went poorly, with neither side willing to make a commitment.

It seems that Precourt would much rather move the Crew than keep it in Columbus. With Precourt and MLS seemingly unwilling to negotiate, Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine has released a statement declaring that his office will take legal action against the Crew if and when it declares an intention to relocate. According to DeWine, the Crew uses tax-funded support, and is therefore subject to a law that would force Precourt to give six months notice on relocation and to accept a reasonable offer from a local bidder.

“Ohioans are very loyal fans who passionately support our teams and take great civic pride in their accomplishments. Our teams are a part of our communities. That is why when ownership moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1995, the Ohio General Assembly took action and passed a law to protect Ohio and its communities when they provide tax-funded support for professional teams’ stadiums. As a United States Senator, I, along with Senator John Glenn and Congressman Louis Stokes, introduced similar legislation in Congress.

“The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has reviewed the law passed after the Browns’ move. We believe the evidence will show that this law would apply to the Columbus Crew and Mapfre Stadium. As Attorney General, should ownership of the Columbus Crew initiate a move of the team without complying with Ohio law, I am prepared to take the necessary legal action under this law to protect the interests of the State of Ohio and the central Ohio communities which have all invested to make the Columbus Crew a proud part of our Ohio sports tradition and help Mapfre Stadium earn its reputation as ‘Fortress Columbus.’”

The push to invoke this law was initiated by state representative Mike Duffey, who spoke to The Columbus Dispatch about what he believes is Precourt’s legal obligation to stick around or sell.

“They’ve been jerks about everything they’ve done about it. If we want to purchase the team as a town, we’re afforded that right under state law,” Duffey said. Precourt Sports Ventures declined a request from the Dispatch to comment on this matter.

Currently, the Crew leases state land at a below-market rate for its parking lots, which it makes a profit on. The state has spent money to improve those facilities. Mapfre Stadium also sits on tax-exempt state land.

But Precourt is likely to argue that, while the stadium sits on state land, the Crew is not taking state assistance. The stadium itself was built entirely with private money, and is wholly owned by PSV, and the Crew isn’t getting the land its parking lots sit on for free. And there might be a legal fight over what the terms “tax-supported facility” and “financial assistance from the state” actually mean — the law itself has been untested thus far.

There seem to be five possible outcomes.

  1. Precourt and MLS finally commit to staying in Columbus and sit down at the negotiating table with local officials.
  2. The Ohio AG’s office isn’t actually serious. It doesn’t follow through on its threats and the Crew moves to Austin anyway.
  3. Precourt sells the Crew.
  4. PSV sues the state of Ohio.
  5. The state of Ohio sues PSV.

This whole situation is a mess. But it’s a mess that looks a bit better for Columbus Crew fans than it did yesterday.