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What the Crew’s potential move means for MLS fans

The ramifications of Anthony Precourt’s attempted relocation of the original MLS franchise Columbus Crew.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

10 months ago, it was revealed that Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt was going through the motions of relocating his club to Austin, Texas. The reaction to the move was swift from almost all corners of the soccer universe. Columbus fans, naturally, were outraged, and fans of every MLS team sided with them. Even some in Austin opposed it. Precourt became a universal villain.

All relocations of sports teams are bad, from Hartford to Montreal to San Diego, but this one feels worse in a lot of contexts. For many, it’s the lying and deception that preceded it. Precourt showed no hesitation to declare his loyalty to the city of Columbus since he bought the team from Clark Hunt in 2013, but it’s clear now that he was lying. The move had been planned for months prior.

The Crew are not suffering financially, like other sports teams that have relocated in the past, nor do they face significant stadium problems. MAPFRE Stadium is old by MLS standards, but it’s soccer specific, it’s close enough to downtown, and it’s grass. There are no obvious reasons for relocation other than Precourt’s own desires to have a team in Austin.

Precourt, for his part, is a billionaire whose father got rich as an oil executive in Houston. The move comes down to this: He wants to live in Austin, not Columbus, and he’s willing to deceive a long-held soccer community in central Ohio to achieve this personal goal. Essentially, this was a years-long con.

Of significant concern to fans of every other team in MLS and pro sports: It sets a very real and dangerous precedent. It means your team could be next, no matter what your attendance or stadium situation is. It means any rich tycoon who inherited millions from his dad can come to your market and inflict irreparable wounds for his own selfish motives.

Even more troubling is that Precourt seems to have reconciled his now permanent state as satan. Everyone except a small amount of Austin fans hates his guts, and yet he’s still accepting ruthless bashing on Twitter and parading around Austin celebrating his most recent stadium victory. He’s fine with his legacy as worst sports owner ever as long as he gets to do what he wants in the here and now.

The Houston Dynamo could conceivably be relocated next, as could Atlanta United, or LAFC, or the Ottawa Senators. It could happen to anyone. Any billionaire could waltz in somewhere, build trust for some amount of years and then move somewhere else. MLS isn’t going to do anything about it.

Any publicity is good publicity? That’s a tough, tough stance to take if you’re MLS.

This is especially dangerous for older MLS teams, and yes, that includes the Houston Dynamo, who are in a similar situation to Columbus. They have a nice soccer specific stadium, but it’s not new and shiny, and the Dynamo’s attendance isn’t great. It doesn’t matter that the stadium is still perfectly fine and close to downtown. It also doesn’t matter that there’s a huge untapped soccer community in the city. None of that matters when it comes to the will of a billionaire.

We don’t know who the next Anthony Precourt is. That’s the scariest part. Precourt was sitting there for years, plotting at the same time as Precourt Sports Ventures helped drive the Crew forward. They rebranded. They hosted more international games. They found first-rate coaches players, became one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the league, and almost won MLS Cup. Precourt quietly dreamed of destroying it all.

There could be another Precourt somewhere in the league, as we speak. It could be Gabriel Brener, for all we know. I don’t think it is and I have no reason to believe it is. But we don’t know. That’s why the Save The Crew movement is important, and that’s why it matters to fans of every other team in the league. You could be next.