Columbus Crew SC, MLS Respond to Lawsuit

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After being sued by Ohio and the City of ColumbusColumbus Crew SC and MLS have responded by criticizing the parties’ interpretation of an Art Modell-inspired law. 

On Monday, Ohio and Columbus filed a lawsuit against MLS and Crew SC owner Precourt Sports Ventures to prevent the club from moving to Austin. Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt announced in October that he was exploring a move of the club to Austin, and Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine was later reported to be considering the use of a Modell-inspired law to prevent the team from relocating. The state law, created after Modell moved the original Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, prevents the relocation of a professional sports franchise that has accepted public funding for sports facilities. Furthermore, the law stipulates that in order to relocate, a professional sports franchise must first provide six months notice and the opportunity for local investors to buy the team.

In the case of MAPFRE Stadium–which originally opened as Columbus Crew Stadium in 1999–the facility itself was privately financed, but the team has accepted free land, below-market leases and parking improvements. The plaintiffs believe that this allows the Modell law to apply in this situation, but it has never been tested in court and both Crew SC and MLS are taking issue with the interpretation of the law. In a statement issued Tuesday, Crew SC and MLS said that they “strongly disagree” with the use of the Modell law in this instance. More from The Columbus Dispatch:

“Precourt Sports Ventures and Major League Soccer are disappointed that the Ohio Attorney General and the City of Columbus have chosen to commence litigation rather than encouraging public officials in Columbus to engage in constructive discussions about the future of Columbus Crew SC,” the statement read.

The city and state’s complaint, MLS and Precourt Sports Ventures argue, ignores fact and law. The statement cites “significant investments” PSV has made “both on and off the field” in an attempt to make the Crew a viable business operation in Columbus.

“Despite these efforts and the on-field success of the Club, Crew SC has been at or near the bottom in the League with respect to box office results and corporate support,” the statement read. “Marketplace challenges have existed in Columbus for 22 years since the club’s founding in 1996.”…

“Throughout this process, PSV and MLS have complied, and will continue to comply, with all relevant laws, but we strongly disagree with the AG’s and City’s interpretation of the Modell Law, its applicability to Columbus Crew SC, and the remedies they seek,” the statement read.

The lawsuit comes as Crew SC continues to explore a move to Austin. Discussions in the Texas city have recently revolved around trying to find a suitable site for a new privately financed stadium. Precourt indicated last week that he is committed to continuing to explore an Austin move, but stressed that the right stadium site will be needed to make relocation a viable option. Crew SC has been reported to be considering a move to Austin as early as 2019, but no relocation plans have been finalized to this point.

Image courtesy MAPFRE Stadium. 

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