A lawsuit designed to keep the Columbus Crew in Ohio will proceed as planned after a judge dismissed a plea from the owners of the Major League Soccer club and MLS itself to dismiss the case.
The future of the Crew has been the subject of a battle between owners Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV), which is seeking to take the team to a proposed new stadium in Austin, Texas, and the City of Columbus and State of Ohio, which are fighting to retain the club.
In March, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a suit against Crew operator Anthony Precourt and MLS, arguing that Precourt’s proposal to relocate the team did not comply with Ohio Revised Code.
Commonly known as the ‘Art Modell Law,’ a section of the code states that an owner who has a tax-supported facility and receives government financial benefits cannot move the team without receiving permission or providing six months’ notice and giving local authorities or residents the chance to purchase the team. The law, which was previously untested, was introduced after Modell, then owner of the Cleveland Browns, moved the NFL American football team to Baltimore after the 1995 season.
The Columbus Dispatch newspaper said attorneys for PSV, MLS and two others argued the Modell law does not apply to them as they receive no public financial assistance and because it is unconstitutional interference with their right to carry out business in interstate commerce.
However, Franklin County Judge Jeffrey Brown ruled against their motion to dismiss, allowing the case to proceed. “This is a big victory in a long legal battle and we are reviewing the judge’s decision now to determine the next steps,” Klein said in a tweet.
“We are pleased with the outcome of today’s decision, and we look forward to the ongoing negotiations to keep the Crew here in Columbus,” said Dan Tierney, spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
In August, Austin City Council voted 7-4 in favour of plans proposed by Precourt, who wants to move the team 1,200 miles to Texas as he feels the franchise is currently unsustainable in Ohio. The Crew’s new 20,000-seat stadium would be situated at McKalla Place in North Austin and the team hopes to begin playing in the city as early as 2021.
The Crew began play in 1996 as one of the 10 charter clubs of MLS and has been owned by PSV since 2013. The club in October said the decision to seek relocation was taken due to the growing disparity in attendance and corporate support compared to its MLS peers and other mid-size markets such as Kansas City, Orlando, Portland and Salt Lake City.
The Crew has played at Mapfre Stadium (pictured) since 1999, but the League’s first soccer-specific stadium is now showing its age. Responding to the judge’s decision, MLS told the Dispatch that it was disappointed by the ruling, but “very pleased” that it agreed with the league’s position that the Ohio statute only requires local people have “a chance to buy” the club.
MLS said it is hopeful a plan can be devised to keep the Crew in Columbus at a new stadium. That would be a win-win, the league said, adding it is “fully committed” to PSV’s bid to launch a team in Austin.