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Saved The Crew: Browns Owners Plan To Purchase Columbus Crew

Jay LaPrete
Associated Press

#SaveTheCrew may soon be #SavedTheCrew.

Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, the Columbus Partnership, and a group of local investors are negotiating to buy the Columbus Crew, keeping the team in Columbus.

The purchase would block current owner Anthony Precourt from moving the team to Austin as planned, but the Texas capital may still get a franchise of its own.

"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," said Major League Soccer in a statement Friday.

"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," the statement continued. "We will continue to work with PSV and the City of Austin on the timing around the launch of Austin FC.”

The Haslams are teaming with Columbus-based investor Pete Edwards, Jr., to coordinate the buy.

“We value and appreciate the benefits of a professional sports franchise can bring to a community and are hopeful to be part of the solution to keep the Crew in Columbus,” reads a statement from the Cleveland Browns. “We would invest in a strong infrastructure within the Crew organization so that we can continue our focus and commitment to building a winning Cleveland Browns football team in Northeast Ohio.”

The announcement was praised by Mayor Andrew Ginther, who said many details remain undecided.

Friday’s announcement was preceded by an afternoon of speculation and anticipation. On Friday afternoon, the Save The Crew account on Twitter posted a picture that declared "Saved The Crew," in the past tense, and said "We ALL did this. Together."

Hours of silence from the organization followed. Fans gathered at Endeavor Brewing to await the news, erecting a banner that declared "We Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and drawing a visit from Crew player Josh Williams. Upon hearing the news, the crowded bar erupted in cheers.

How We Got Here

Precourt announced in October 2017 that he would move the Crew to Austin unless Columbus built a new soccer stadium downtown. Columbus and the state of Ohio sued, citing "Modell Law," which prohibits sports teams playing in taxpayer-funded stadiums from leaving town without giving locals a chance to purchase it.

Despite Precourt's attempts to dismiss the case, in June a judge granted Columbus a pause so it could assemble potential buyers. Haslam and Edwards seem to be those buyers - a fitting choice, considering it was the Browns' 1996 move to Baltimore that inspired "Modell Law" in the first place.

"Having community-oriented owners ready to purchase the team is a significant step forward in achieving our goal to keep Crew SC in Columbus," said Alex Fischer, president of the Columbus Partnership.

In a statement, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine applauded the news of a potential purchase.

"I appreciate the efforts of the Haslam and Edwards families, and the Columbus Partnership for their work, and I will continue pursuing the case in court until there is a final deal," DeWine wrote.

Meanwhile, Precourt's lobbying efforts in Austin have been moving slowly but surely. Austin City Council last month voted to negotiate with Major League Soccer and Precourt Sports Ventures on building a 20,000-seat stadium at McKalla Place. Under the plan, the stadium would be financed by Precourt but owned by the city, which would lease it back to the team.

MLS said Friday they are "very committed" to launching a franchise in Austin.

"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," MLS said. "We applaud the Austin community, city leaders and Precourt Sports Ventures for their commitment to making this happen.”

Precourt would give the team a name change to Austin FC, with its colors moving from black-and-yellow to black-and-green.

The Crew is one of the oldest teams in the MLS, playing in Columbus since 1996. Their home, MAPFRE Stadium, was built in 1999 as the first-ever soccer-specific stadium for an MLS team, but in the past few years has regularly seen disappointing attendance numbers.

Precourt purchased the Crew in 2013.

This article will be updated with more information as the story develops.