Browns owners, local investors in negotiations to purchase Columbus Crew SC

FILE - In this June 14, 2017, file photo, Columbus Crew fans cheer before a U.S. Open Cup soccer match against FC Cincinnati, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
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Here's what we know about the Columbus Crew SC negotiations:

  • Haslam confirms he's trying to buy Crew SC
  • MLS confirms local ownership group would join him
  • A new downtown stadium would be part of the deal
  • Anthony Precourt would still get an expansion team in Austin


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Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said Friday they are part of a group trying to buy the Columbus Crew to keep the MLS team in the city.

The group, which also includes Columbus-area investors, said in a statement it is moving forward to acquire the team, which appeared headed to Austin, Texas, after this season. A new stadium in downtown Columbus is part of the plan, although no details were provided.

The agreement also provides that Austin, whose city council had approved plans for a new, privately owned 20,000-seat stadium, will get an MLS expansion team no later than 2021.

"MLS is committed to keeping Crew SC in Columbus should we continue to make progress on these critical components and agree to key terms with the investor group," the league said in a statement.

Anthony Precourt, the San Francisco-based investor who owns the Crew, had courted Austin for a potential move since last year, contending that the team was no longer financially viable in Columbus without bigger crowds and a new stadium. Precourt and Richard Suttle, the Austin lobbyist who helped negotiate terms of a stadium deal there, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

In Columbus, the announcement touched off wild celebrations among Crew fans, who had been working to save the team since Precourt made his plans public last year.

"This is truly a historic moment," said David Miller, a spokesman for the Save the Crew group. "Over the last year, we've proven that a community of invested individuals has the power to make a big difference."

Everyone involved acknowledged that there are many details still to be worked out. The league's statement said that success for the Crew in Columbus will require "strong local partners, long-term corporate support, a strong season ticket base and long-term plans for a stadium, practice facilities and associated sites."

The MLS expressed its commitment to expand to Austin, saying "regardless of any scenario in Columbus, there is a clear path forward for (Precourt) to operate Austin FC as a Major League Soccer club."

Austin is the largest metropolitan area in the country without a major league sports franchise.

"What a wonderful win/win/win solution!" Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. "The MLS commissioner and Anthony Precourt both reaffirm that Austin will have major league soccer opening the 2021 season in the new, McKalla stadium."

Ohio and Columbus officials had sued Precourt and MLS to stop or slow down the move. Ohio law requires teams that use tax-supported facilities and accept state financial assistance to give six months' notice and give local investors a chance to buy the team. The law was enacted after the NFL's Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996.

The Haslams, owners of the Browns since 2012, are still seeking on-the-field success in Cleveland. Their tenure in Cleveland has included numerous coaching and front-office changes as the Browns have been one of the league's worst teams for several years.

Cleveland became just the second franchise to lose all 16 games last season, when the Haslams again swept out most of their management team but retained coach Hue Jackson despite his 1-31 record over two seasons. They brought in former Kansas City general manager John Dorsey to handle personnel, and the Browns are already showing major improvement this season.

MLS Statement on Columbus:

“Major League Soccer and the Columbus Partnership have been working together for several months on a plan to keep Crew SC in Columbus and we have made significant progress.

Recently, the Haslam Family – along with the Columbus-based Edwards Family, have joined the effort to keep Crew SC in Columbus.

MLS, the Columbus Partnership and the investor group all agree that for the Club to be successful in Columbus, it requires strong local partners, long-term corporate support, a strong season ticket base and long-term plans for a stadium, practice facilities and associated sites.

MLS is committed to keeping Crew SC in Columbus should we continue to make progress on these critical components and agree to key terms with the investor group.

MLS recognizes the cooperation Precourt Sports Ventures has demonstrated throughout the process to date.

MLS also remains very committed to PSV’s plan to launch an MLS Club in Austin and is excited for Austin to become a great addition to MLS. We will continue to work with PSV and the City of Austin on the timing around the launch of Austin FC.”

MLS Statement on Austin:

“Major League Soccer is excited to move forward in Austin with Precourt Sports Ventures and their vision for Austin FC. Regardless of any scenario in Columbus, there is a clear path forward for PSV to operate Austin FC as a Major League Soccer club.

The strong support from Austin’s corporate community, government officials and passionate soccer fans is impressive. Austin is a flourishing, dynamic city that presents a great opportunity for MLS, and we look forward to finalizing plans to become the first major league team in the capital of Texas.

While timing for Austin FC is still to be finalized, we are confident that the team will begin play no later than 2021 at the new, privately financed stadium and soccer park at McKalla Place. We applaud the Austin community, city leaders and Precourt Sports Ventures for their commitment to making this happen."

Joint Statement from the Columbus Partnership, Pete Edwards, Jr. and Dee and Jimmy Haslam on forming alliance to keep Crew in Columbus:

“We are excited to jointly announce that the Columbus Partnership along with a local investor group led by Pete Edwards, Jr. and Dee and Jimmy Haslam have formed an alliance to continue the collaboration with Major League Soccer to keep the Crew in Columbus.

We are optimistic about our recent conversations with MLS regarding the potential sale of the operating rights of the Columbus Crew.

While there are many details to be worked out, our alliance is working diligently and collaboratively with the League to keep the Crew in its community. We are very excited about the quiet but deliberate progress that has been made to date and will keep the community updated as this process moves forward.”

Statement from Alex Fischer, President and CEO of the Columbus Partnership:

“I am energized by the willingness of MLS to collaborate with us over the past several months. I appreciate Commissioner Garber’s personal involvement with the Columbus Partnership, the Haslams and the Edwards. Having community-oriented owners ready to purchase the team is a significant step forward in achieving our goal to keep Crew SC in Columbus.”

Statement from Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther:

“This is great news for the City of Columbus. As I have said repeatedly over the past year, the Crew SC belongs in Columbus. There are many details to work out, but I am grateful for the Columbus Partnership, Dee and Jimmy Haslam, Pete Edwards, Jr. and all of the loyal fans.”

Statement from City Attorney Zach Klein:

“I share the fan’s excitement about today’s developments in our ongoing effort to #SaveTheCrew. Since the very beginning, the purpose of our lawsuit has been to ensure that investors have a fair opportunity to purchase this team. We’re encouraged by this progress and look forward to conversations with MLS and investors that could resolve this litigation.”

Statement from Precourt Sports Ventures:

With the recent news of a possible investor group stepping into Columbus, Austin FC is on the verge of becoming the first major league sports franchise in the history of Austin.

PSV has made remarkable progress in Austin, and when the definitive agreement with the City of Austin is finalized, MLS in Austin will be a reality. Regardless of the possibility of any bona fide investor group in Columbus closing on a transaction to assume operating rights to Columbus Crew SC, Austin FC will be playing MLS matches in the Texas state capital in the near future. The club will likely begin playing at a date no later than the spring 2021 opening of the new, privately-financed stadium and soccer park at McKalla Place.

Although the process is not yet final in Austin, a successful outcome is within reach and PSV remains grateful for the patience and support of all involved.

The strength and resiliency of Austin supporters and elected officials have helped create a successful foundation for Austin FC to be a proud community platform, and PSV is incredibly excited for what lies ahead.