By Maria Walliser-Wejebe, GOPC Project Associate
Major League Soccer goes into full swing again Saturday March 2, and following a dramatic succession of events that fans and spectators couldn’t have imagined six months ago, two clubs will call the state of Ohio home. It goes without saying that incredible efforts were undertaken by devoted fans, the private sector, and public officials to keep the Crew SC in Columbus. While GOPC doesn’t comment on sports news often, we believe this movement deserves some reflection given the extraordinary circumstances and the quick and coordinated action by partners from multiple sectors and levels of governance. Sports teams in their own way, contribute to a community’s sense of place, creating and unifying a group under a common identity and goal. SaveTheCrew represents the potential for placemaking to motivate partners from multiple networks to create lasting change based on collective efforts.
On October 16, 2017, the future of the Columbus Crew was put into question as news broke out that Precourt Sports Ventures, then owner-operators of the team, were considering moving the club to Austin, TX. Less than a week after the initial announcement, #SavetheCrew movement came into existence and 2,000 fans rallied in front of City Hall to voice their support for the team and their disapproval of PSV’s proposed move. Most movements end with a hashtag and a rally, but SaveTheCrew captured national attention and mobilized local partners to collaborate on a new leadership model that would allow the Crew to remain in Columbus.
Saving the Crew was accomplished by the Columbus Partnership negotiating with new investor group comprised of Cleveland Browns owners, Jimmy and Dee Haslam, and longtime Crew team physician, Pete Edwards (also of Edwards Construction), who finalized ownership of the Crew in a late December, eleventh-hour deal. Saving the Crew was accomplished by the state of Ohio and the city of Columbus, who filed a lawsuit against former Crew ownership, invoking the 1996 Modell Law and delaying PSV’s efforts to pull out of Ohio full stop. Saving the Crew was accomplished by the SaveTheCrew organization, which collected over 350 business allies and 12,330 pledges for full or partial-season ticket packages, an effort which is driving up momentum for ticket sales now that the new ownership group has finalized purchase and the Crew is unmistakably staying in Columbus.
As the Crew opens their twenty-fourth season in Columbus, plans are underway for the construction of a new downtown stadium, funded with contributions from state and local governments, with the city preparing to repurpose the current stadium as a large-scale community sports park. The new ownership group has also shown continued dedication to the Central Ohio community, announcing a new mini-pitch at a Hilltop area elementary school. The collaboration and dedication presented by leaders in the public sector and the business community went against a narrative of professional sports team relocation that has played out in cities across the country, and showcases the power of grassroots organizing that would not let the Columbus Crew go quietly into the dark night.