Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt has threatened to move his team and launch an Austin MLS team as soon as 2019, if a new Ohio facility to replace MAPFRE Stadium isn’t built.
Precourt, who bought the team from original owner Hunt Sports Group in 2013, is reportedly frustrated by low attendance and the modest MAPFRE Stadium, which opened in 1999 as the first pro-soccer-specific stadium. It’s no secret he sees Austin as a better market; his purchase agreement committed the team to Columbus for a decade, but does contain an out clause should he desire an Austin move. And there’s definitely been talk about an Austin move recently: earlier this year the league registered “Austin FC” and “Austin Athletic” trademarks. A lease to play at the University of Texas in 2019 until a new stadium is completed is also reportedly in the works.
While the USL has a plan to place a team at a new stadium in Austin in 2019, Precourt’s plan doesn’t include either the USL or that new stadium. Instead, he’s been talking with city officials about a new waterfront stadium as part of a larger development — the kind of development beyond the means of any USL owner. From the Columbus Dispatch:
“The owner has made a decision to pursue multiple options, including Austin and a new stadium that is being planned down there,” Alex Fischer said late Monday.
Fischer is president and CEO of the Columbus partnership, a group of local business leaders.
“We learned of these conversations (with Austin) a month or so ago, when ownership approached us with ideas for a new stadium in Columbus,” Fischer said. “We made an effort, and an offer, to both buy the team outright as well as go into a 50-50 partnership — an aggressive effort to do what we can to keep the team in Columbus.”
That Austin lacks pro soccer on the Division II or Division I is puzzling, to be sure; the Austin demographics seem tailor-made for MLS, much less USL. The issue has always been the lack of a suitable facility, and Austin has gone from no suitable stadiums to two potential projects.