By: Twumasi Duah-Mensah
In the United States, a sports team faces the threat of relocation.
Columbus Crew SC is a soccer club based in Columbus, Ohio that plays in the top division of American soccer, Major League Soccer (MLS). The long-established club was one of the ten original teams when the MLS was founded in 1996. The nascent club’s fans were named the best in the new league after the inaugural season in 1997. They were rewarded for their loyalty and spirit in 2008 with an MLS Cup victory over the New York Red Bulls, another one of the original MLS clubs.
2008 also marked the year that the Nordecke Stand was built for the Crew’s stadium, MAPFRE Stadium. Such a stand was reserved for the most passionate of fans. It became a staple, with supporters’ groups like the Hudson Street Hooligans and the Yellow Nation Army electrifying the MAPFRE. Drum beats, chants, and overall enthusiasm motivated the players to vindicate the ardent followers of Columbus. With the roar of the Nordecke Stand, Columbus was able to qualify for the MLS Cup in 2015 for the second time in its history. Unfortunately, they were defeated by the Oregon-based Portland Timbers by a score of 2-1.
Ever since that season, the magic of MAPFRE has been lost.
2016 was a year to forget. Columbus didn’t even make the playoffs. The loss of excitement for the club persisted in 2017. By the middle of the season, Crew had the worst attendance in the league at a shade above 13,000. This meant that Crew was filling up 66% of their stadium by the season’s midpoint. By comparison, Crystal Palace, a soccer club based in South London, England, isn’t in good form They’re last in the English Premier League and fired their coach four games into the season (there are 38 games played over 9 months in an EPL season). Their average attendance rate is around 96%, regardless.
Compare this, though, to the Los Angeles Galaxy, another MLS club that finished dead last in the Western Conference of the league and had atrocious performances at home. Keep in mind that Columbus made the playoffs in this MLS season. The Galaxy still averaged a better attendance rate than Columbus Crew at 81.8%.
Sure, the populations of South London and Los Angeles are bigger than Columbus. Sure, soccer has been around longer in England than in the United States. If you’re still not convinced, let’s look at the Colorado Rapids, an MLS team based in Denver, Colorado. The Rapids have a smaller stadium than the Crew (by almost 2,000 seats) and missed the playoffs. This means that 1,500 empty seats mean more to its attendance rate than to Columbus. Even then, they filled 84.8% of their stadium in the 2017 season. This is even worse considering that Denver’s population is almost 180,000 people fewer than Columbus. Something is clearly off here.
Poor attendance is clearly a concern of Anthony Precourt. Precourt is the business mogul behind Precourt Sports Ventures, the company that owns the Columbus Crew. The company bought the club in July 2013 and made significant renovations to MAPFRE Stadium. Because of the poor attendance, Precourt theorizes the stadium’s position, miles away from Downtown Columbus, makes attendance fall. Combine that with a poor 2016 season, and a marketing disaster is born.
Because of the conundrum, Precourt has given Columbus, Ohio an ultimatum. If the city cannot provide a new, taxpayer-funded stadium downtown, the club will move to Austin, Texas. It didn’t help, though, that Precourt made such a daunting announcement right before the MLS Cup playoffs.
In response, #SavetheCrew has become a nationwide campaign. Demonstrations have occurred at playoff games across the MLS. Such a move has certainly increased buzz around the city of Columbus; although, it may be that Precourt is a marketing genius and threatened to move the team to measure how much buzz the team would generate. Many supporters’ groups believe that the Crew makes enough revenue to support the team, anyways. It’s important to note, however, that Precourt believes that Columbus’ profitability is very low in comparison to other MLS clubs in medium-sized markets. He and the MLS would like to increase revenue as much as possible.
The Herald asked about what’s happening in Columbus through Facebook. “It was comfortable to get around the stadium, and tailgating in the parking lots was great,” said a respondent when asked about the stadium’s atmosphere before the #SavetheCrew campaign. “The Nordecke section has always been high energy and fun to watch.”
The respondent noted that while he hadn’t seen protests or demonstrations in the streets, the local news gave the move a lot of attention. He also commented on the value of the team in comparison to other sports franchises:
“It is [valued], but not in the way OSU (Ohio State) football or the other NFL teams are,” he answered. “Crew fans understand the value of having this team and where the MLS is going growth-wise. Outside of that, people really don’t rally to go to games. I find the games great because the ticket prices are reasonable, and you get to be outside during the nice weather months.”
Losing a sports team is new ground for many. Imagine, however, that Raleigh’s emerging soccer club, North Carolina FC, gains a lot of attention. The team then packs its bags and moves to a more profitable city. Wouldn’t you feel cheated? Did the owners actually try their best to stay in Wake County? What would’ve happened if your local area did its best to keep NCFC in North Carolina?
If the Columbus Crew stays, it would set a huge precedent for American sports teams threatening to move from their cities. We could figure out what worked to keep the team in its home. We could figure out the best ways to support our local sports franchises. We could strengthen the bond between Americans that live 3,000 miles away in a time of great cultural division.
All of what I’ve mentioned, however, can only happen when we unite.
I can’t help out financially. Many of you reading probably can’t, either. But we both can help by sharing this story. Retweet it. Share it on other social media. Give supporters’ groups your ideas on disincentivizing the move to Austin. I’ll leave contact information below. Maybe we don’t have money. Maybe we don’t have time. Maybe we don’t have ideas. But I know that all Americans have one thing in common. It unites the working class in Madison, Wisconsin with the middle class in Raleigh, North Carolina. It unites gun owners in Texas with gun control advocates in Vermont. It unites African-Americans in Cleveland, Ohio with whites in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All humans have it. Ours is unique to our land. It’s the will to survive. The will to persevere. The will to improve.
The will to fight.
Save the Crew
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter – @Save_the_Crew
Facebook – https://facebook.com/SaveTheCrew
https://savethecrew.com (website accepts donations)
Hudson Street Hooligans
Twitter – @HSHCrew
Email – email@example.com
Facebook – https://facebook.com/HudsonStreetHooligans
Twitter – @MurderersRow614
Yellow Nation Army
Twitter – @YellowNatArmy
Facebook – https://facebook.com/YellowNationArmy