New Crew Stadium Needed to Keep Club in Columbus?

MAPFRE Stadium

It appears that a plan to keep the Crew in Columbus will hinge on brand-new facilities, including a replacement for MAPFRE Stadium

Earlier this month, it was revealed that the Crew might remain in Columbus rather than relocate to Austin. That scenario would involve a group led by Jimmy and Dee Haslam–owners of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns–and the Columbus-based Edwards family buying into MLS and receiving operating rights to Columbus. Meanwhile, current Crew investor-operator Anthony Precourt would remain a MLS investor, allowing him to move forward with plans for a new Austin stadium no later than the 2021 season. (Remember: MLS is a membership league, not a franchise league).

While that plan has been seen as a positive development for potentially keeping the Crew in Columbus, there are still numerous areas that need to be addressed in order for it to move forward. One of those is a strategy to address the condition of the club’s facilities, as MLS is expected to want a new training academy along with a replacement for the aging MAPFRE Stadium–the Crew’s current home at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. It appears that a plan to construct both facilities is needed in order for the Crew to remain in Columbus, but many details still have to be resolved. More from Crain’s Cleveland Business:

A spokesperson for Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther told Crain’s that, while the city is “excited about this development, there are many details to work out.”

MLS and the Columbus Partnership — a nonprofit, membership-based group of more than 65 CEOs from Central Ohio that has been working to help the Crew stay put — declined comment, aside from the statement the groups released on Oct. 12. The Columbus Partnership is headed by Alex Fischer, a Tennessee native who is friends with Jimmy Haslam.

The Haslams’ involvement in the efforts — which, to meet MLS’ satisfaction, must include a plan to construct a new stadium and practice facility that would replace 19-year-old Mapfre Stadium — led to speculation that the Browns could resume talks regarding a potential move of the majority of their training camp to Columbus would restart. The team, however, says the MLS’ schedule, with a regular season that kicks off in March and runs through October, would make that almost impossible.

Part of what fueled Precourt’s desire to relocate the club was the condition of MAPFRE Stadium. The facility opened in 1999 as something of a standard-bearer for the soccer-specific model of MLS stadiums, but the level of amenities within MLS facilities has been raised considerably in the years since. That has become particularly true over the last few seasons, as the openings of Orlando City Stadium, Banc of California Stadium (Los Angeles FC), and Audi Field (D.C. United) have represented steps forward for the soccer-specific model. The soccer-specific standard also figures to be raised even higher in the coming years as new stadiums open in Minnesota, Nashville, and Cincinnati.

Therefore, it seems likely that MLS would want a plan for new Crew stadium if the club remains in Columbus for the long haul. How a potential Columbus stadium plan takes place remains to be seen, but new facilities figure to be a priority in planning the club’s long-term future.

Image courtesy MAPFRE Stadium.

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