Citing an Art Modell-inspired law, Ohio and the City of Columbus have filed a lawsuit to prevent Columbus Crew SC from relocating to Austin.
There have been previous signs of a possible lawsuit, as Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine was reported to be considering the Modell-inspired law to block Crew SC from moving. 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. 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, thus qualifying to be covered under the law.
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 this lawsuit against Crew SC owner Precourt Sports Ventures and MLS, filed Monday in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, the plaintiffs contend that the club should be blocked under law from relocating. More from The Columbus Dispatch:
“Loyal Crew fans in Columbus have invested their time and loyalty in this team, and they have allowed the Crew SC to capitalize from financial incentives paid for by their tax dollars,” DeWine said in a statement. “I am left with no other choice than to file this suit to ensure our laws are followed.”
The Crew is one of the 10 original teams in the MLS, playing in soccer-specific Mapfre Stadium just north of the Ohio Expo Center. But team owner Anthony Precourt has said he wants to move the team to Austin if he doesn’t get a Downtown stadium here.
MLS and Precourt Sports Ventures released a joint statement Monday night indicating that both “will make an additional statement tomorrow (Tuesday) following a review of the complaint.”
State Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, has been pushing DeWine to sue. He has said the Crew qualifies as using taxpayer-supported facilities because it is paying a below-market rate to lease state land for parking; Mapfre Stadium sits on land that is tax exempt; and the state provided $5 million for parking upgrades in 2009 at the adjacent expo center, where lots are used by Crew fans.
Precourt first revealed in October that he was exploring a relocation of the franchise to Austin. While that move has been reported as possibly taking place as early as 2019, it is not finalized at this point, as the club and Austin officials continue to sort through potential sites that would be used for a privately financed stadium. Just last week, Precourt indicated that he is focused on continuing to explore Austin, but also stressed that the club needs to find a suitable stadium site there to make relocation a viable option.
Image courtesy MAPFRE Stadium.
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