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MLS commissioner on Columbus team potential move: 'These things are traumatic'

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Soccer fans in Ohio are up in arms this month over reports that the owner of the Columbus Crew Major League Soccer team is considering relocating the team to Austin, Texas, unless the team can get a new stadium in Columbus after the 2018 season. On social media, they’ve aired their grievances using the hashtag #SaveTheCrew.

The Columbus team is one of the original 10 MLS teams that began playing in 1996. But the club had the third-lowest attendance in the league this season (15,439 on average), a frustrating situation when the brand new team in Atlanta just set an MLS attendance record last week of 71,874. The average MLS game attendance this season was a record 22,106.

Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt has offered season-ticket refunds to fans for next season, a goodwill move that, as SB Nation points out, “seemed to confirm beyond all doubt what was happening: Crew SC is leaving Columbus.”

MLS Commissioner Don Garber addressed the Columbus situation publicly for the first time on Wednesday at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit.

“No decision has been made”

“It’s not proper to say they want to move,” Garber said. “What they’re doing is evaluating what their options are to determine whether or not it makes sense to move to Austin… no decision has been made to move to Austin.”

But Garber also acknowledged the pain that fans feel when their team relocates.

“These things are traumatic,” he said. “I respect and I understand that. No league, and certainly no leader of a league, wants to move a club… There are times when you make these traumatic decisions, that long-term, can be beneficial for the sport and the league overall.”

Garber said the league will meet with the Columbus mayor and the Columbus Partnership, an alliance of business leaders in the city, to figure out what the Crew could possibly do to turn things around and stay in Columbus. “The good news here is: people are talking… We’re all going to work together to get the right outcome.”

MLS has only moved a team once

In its 22 years, MLS has only relocated a club once: In 2006, the San Jose Earthquakes moved to Houston and became the Dynamo; two years later, the MLS revived the San Jose Earthquakes, which played at Santa Clara University’s stadium from 2008 to 2014, then moved to brand new Avaya Stadium in 2015. An MLS team now exists in both cities.

If the Crew were indeed to move, it would be a big score for Austin: the city’s first pro sports team. But it would be a blow to the MLS fans in Columbus.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwriteSportsbook is our sports business video and podcast series.

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