In a motion filed Thursday, Columbus Crew SC and MLS sought to dismiss a lawsuit from the City of Columbus and State of Ohio over the club’s potential move to Austin.
Crew owner Anthony Precourt announced last October that was he exploring a move to Austin. That process is still unfolding, as no final plans for a relocation have moved forward. Still, the discussion of a move was enough to prompt a lawsuit from Columbus and Ohio, with the plaintiffs citing an Art Modell-inspired state law to prevent the team from moving.
The law was created after Modell moved the original Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, and it 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. In addition, the law stipulates that in order to move, a franchise must first provide six months notice and the opportunity for local investors to buy the team.
In their motion to dismiss, the defendants argued that this statue cannot apply to the Crew. MLS operates under a single-entity structure, with Precourt’s Precourt Sports Ventures serving as the Crew’s investor-operator. According to the filing, this makes MLS–not PSV–the club’s owner, something that the defendants claim pokes holes in the plaintiffs’ use of the law. More from the Austin-American Statesman:
The defendants say the law does not apply to the Crew because MLS, not PSV, is the “owner” of the franchise. The motion claims that because of this, MLS is the only defendant that could be subject to the statute.
The amended complaint, filed on March 12 by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the city of Columbus, outlines more than $6 million in financial assistance accepted by the Crew in the form of tax exemptions, parking lot improvements and other subsidies. It does not specifically mention MLS accepting financial assistance.
“If Plaintiffs could have truthfully alleged that MLS receives financial assistance from the state or a political subdivision (which they cannot, as MLS receives no such assistance), they would have done so.”
Additionally, PSV and MLS argued that the statute violates the dormant commerce clause, privileges and immunities clause of the U.S. Constitution and the contracts clause of the national and state constitutions.
In a statement issued on Friday, Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine indicated that the plaintiffs will oppose the motion.
Attorney General DeWine released the following statement today on the motion made by Precourt Sports Ventures and @MLS to dismiss our lawsuit regarding Ohio Revised Code 9.67. #SaveTheCrew #ForColumbus #CrewSC pic.twitter.com/NBQz9auQHy
— Ohio AG Mike DeWine (@OhioAG) April 20, 2018
At this point, the club’s future is up in the air. The Austin City Council voted last month to study the 24-acre McKalla Place as the potential site of a new stadium, but a final decision is likely a few months away. Meanwhile, The Columbus Dispatch reported Thursday that a contingent of MLS officials met with Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer and possible local investors in the club. That meeting, which reportedly included discussions of possible stadium sites in Columbus, was attended by MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott. However, noting has been disclosed publicly about what the next steps are for the two sides.
The Crew has discussed moving to Austin as early as 2019, provided that plans for a new stadium move forward in a timely fashion. The team would play at a temporary facility until construction of the new stadium is complete.
Image courtesy MAPFRE Stadium.
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