Austinites should welcome relocation of Columbus Crew

Emily Vernon

It’s no secret that Austin is one of the largest U.S. cities without a professional sports team, and Austinites haven’t come to expect this to change any time soon. That is, until last week.

Anthony Precourt, the owner of the MLS franchise Columbus Crew, announced last week that he was heavily considering moving his team to Texas’ capital city. The Crew has been located in Columbus since the Major League Soccer’s start in 1996, but for the past few seasons it’s been sitting at the bottom of the attendance rankings. Precourt essentially said that unless the Crew gets a new stadium in downtown Columbus — which is highly unlikely —  they’re out. Goal for Austinites.

When the news broke last Tuesday night that Precourt was in Austin talking to Mayor Steve Adler about the potential move, many Austinites rejoiced. The discussion dominated local media. But in Columbus, it was a different story.

Headlines broke decrying the over-commercialization of the MLS, claiming teams are on the trajectory to match the National Football League’s entitlement. Precourt was labeled as “greedy,” and locals called the talks a “mistake.” But this move isn’t quite as controversial and unmatched as Crew fans may think. The San Jose Earthquakes moved to Houston and became the Houston Dynamo over a decade ago for similar reasons.

At the end of the day, professional sports are a capitalistic endeavor. MLS players are severely underpaid compared to other professional leagues, and if we wish for the league to continue to grow and attract world-class players, it’s important to look at the economics of it. If a team will generate greater income in another city, a move might just be necessary. Furthermore, building up the MLS can have long term benefits to the U.S. Men’s National Team — an obvious necessity after its failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Precourt sees Austin’s young millennial population and growing international presence as one of the most promising, untapped soccer markets in the United States. There’s been speculation for quite some time that Austin will eventually get a MLS team, but the assumption has been that it would take years to happen. Relocation is the answer to fans’ prayers, as it means Austin would be able to skip the process of starting a team from scratch.

With the arrival in Austin of F.C. Barcelona’s first youth academy in America this past summer, clubs obviously see our city as a viable soccer market. If the Columbus Crew made their way down south, they would be joining Texas’ F.C. Dallas and Houston Dynamo, creating a trifecta in the state that produced America’s favorite national team player — Clint Dempsey. Precourt plans to privately finance the stadium, so a team wouldn’t cost Austinites anything. It would definitely be an unfortunate loss for Columbus, but as soccer fans should know, all’s fair in love and war. Just this once, it’s time to Columbus-our-Austin.

Vernon is an anthropology and rhetoric and writing junior from The Woodlands. She is a senior columnist.