Ohio, Columbus Counter Claims From MLS and Crew SC

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The ongoing legal battle over the potential move of Columbus Crew SC continues, as Columbus and Ohio are opposing a motion to dismiss the case. 

The Crew has been exploring a relocation to Austin, resulting in a lawsuit against Precourt Sports Ventures and MLS from the City of Columbus and State of Ohio. The plaintiffs have cited an Art Modell-inspired state law that is designed to prevent the relocation of a professional sports franchise that has accepted public funding for a facility.

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. That was a sticking point in a motion to dismiss last month from the club and MLS, as defendants argued that MLS’s single-entity structure makes the league–not Anthony Precourt’s PSV–the team’s owner. Therefore, the case was made that MLS could be the only one of the two defendants subject to the law, and that the league itself has not accepted the public financial assistance.

That claim has been countered by City Attorney Zach Klein and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who on Wednesday filed a 32-page memo opposing the motion to dismiss. In that memo, Klein and DeWine argued that the defendants bounded themselves by the law by accepting public benefits. More from The Columbus Dispatch:

“By choosing to accept this benefits, defendants bound themselves to the terms of the statute,” the memo read.

In their motion to dismiss filed two weeks ago, PSV and MLS pointed out several reasons why they believe the suit should be thrown out, arguing that the Modell Law is in violation of the Privileges and Immunities Claus and dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution and the Contracts Clause of both the Ohio and U.S. Constitutions. They also indicated the law should be void for vagueness and that MLS, not PSV, owns the Crew, meaning the law does not apply in this case.

DeWine and Klein on Wednesday called that approach a “not it” stance and attempted to broaden the scope of the suit to both PSV and MLS in mentioning that the Modell Law applies to owners whose teams have been given public dollars as opposed to the owner directly receiving taxpayer support.

The city and state also cited several examples of that ownership distinction being unclear, including Crew investor-operator Anthony Precourt referring to himself as the “Owner/Chairman of Columbus Crew SC and Mapfre Stadium” on social media until recently.

Another component of 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.

For right now, nothing has been settled regarding the longterm home of the Crew. The Austin City Council voted in March to study the city-owned McKalla Place as the potential site of an MLS stadium, but a final decision could be a few months away.

Image courtesy MAPFRE Stadium. 

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