Mike DeWine, the Ohio Attorney General, along with the city of Columbus, Ohio, filed a lawsuit against Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt and Major League Soccer on Monday. The Ohio state government has officially joined the #SaveTheCrew movement, and Crew fans have the Cleveland Browns to thank for this intervention.
In 1995, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, a National Football League franchise that had been around since 1946, announced he was moving the team to Baltimore. Though he was forced to leave behind the team name, logo and history, owner Art Modell took the players, staff and other personnel to Baltimore, renaming them the Ravens in 1996.
That year, Ohio lawmakers — looking to score some political points after their constituents were angered by Modell’s actions — passed a law attempting to prevent a similar situation from happening again. The law states no owner of an Ohio professional sports team that receives any public funds (be it from tax-supported facilities or other financial assistance) can move the team from the city without giving six months prior notice and allowing local individuals the opportunity to purchase the team.
The Columbus Dispatch reported on Monday that DeWine and Columbus are invoking that 22-year-old law to sue Precourt and MLS to prevent the Columbus Crew from leaving Ohio. Precourt, who has taken advantage of taxpayer benefits for the Crew, is actively seeking to move the club to Austin. Precourt has said he wants a stadium in downtown Columbus or he’ll move, but he’s struggled to find a location to build a stadium in Austin.
“Loyal Crew fans in Columbus have invested their time and loyalty in this team, and they have allowed the Crew SC to capitalize from financial incentives paid for by their tax dollars,” DeWine said in a statement quoted by the Dispatch. “I am left with no other choice than to file this suit to ensure our laws are followed.”
Meanwhile, the Crew started the MLS season with a bang on Saturday, toppling reigning champion Toronto FC 2-0 in front of a stunned crowd at BMO Field. But the entire season will be a mere backdrop to the #SaveTheCrew campaign unless Precourt either sells the team or announces he will keep the team in Columbus.