MLS to Austin: Columbus Crew fans given bleak financial picture

In the most extensive comments regarding the financial status of Columbus Crew SC to date, the club’s president of business operations painted a picture Monday night of a franchise in dire need of assistance.

Andy Loughnane, who runs the business side in Columbus for Precourt Sports Ventures that is exploring a move to Austin, spoke at length during a private event for season ticket members at the city’s Mapfre Stadium. A recording of the Supporters Summit was posted by a fan on Facebook.

“There’s a significant amount of challenges in doing a deal in Columbus,” Loughnane said during a lengthy question-and-answer session stopped several times due to interruptions from the crowd.

Despite the dire picture painted, the Crew’s hardcore supporters are not giving up hope on saving the team. However, they know they need help from the power structure of Columbus.

“Regardless of what happened in the past, this is too important to live amongst the ruins of whatever broken promises there were or whatever lack of communication there was,” said Morgan Hughes, a leader of the fan-led Save The Crew movement. “It’s time to be grown-ups and it’s time to let the past stay in the past and at least get back to the table. I’m talking Anthony Precourt and the leaders in Columbus.”

At the center of the discussion was the ownership’s desire to build a new stadium. The Crew has played at the current facility since 1999 on land owned by the Ohio State Fair and Expo Center.

“I do not think that continuing operations here is going to be best for the club,” Loughnane said. “Now, this (stadium) is nostalgic in many ways, but it also needs to serve a function which is a long-term growth of the club. We think that’s elsewhere, not here.”

A Crew SC spokesman acknowledged that the event took place but said that “no formal announcements were made.”

Alex Fischer, president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, did not respond to Statesman requests for comment.

Loughnane said PSV worked with a real-estate developer in Columbus in 2017 to identify potential sites. The search was narrowed to three finalists in July 2017, including a 40-acre parcel of land he referred to as the “old casino” site in the Arena District now owned by Nationwide Realty; a site in Franklinton (adjacent to downtown) and the previously reported site owned by Abbott Laboratories.

Part of that process, Loughnane said, was a survey distributed in fall 2016 to 37 executives organized by the Columbus Partnership around the same time as a public survey that asked about potential stadium sites.

Businesses in Columbus were asked if they would be willing to pitch in “founding-level sponsorship” for a new stadium. Loughnane said responses included “Columbus Crew SC is not major league,” “Ohio State is everything” and “(NHL) Blue Jackets are major league.”

Loughnane said the franchise needs to show $350 million in guaranteed revenue to go toward building a stadium (estimated $175 million to build) and a training facility ($25 million). He also stated that the franchise needed a $150 million valuation.

“Today we have $13 million of contractually obligated income as a club. It’s going to require having a committed capital stack of $350 million plus another $100 million. A bank won’t lend you the money unless you have it.”

No details were given to all dollar amounts mentioned.

Loughnane placed the blame for the Crew’s financial troubles squarely on the shoulders of the Columbus corporate community. He said the team’s stadium naming rights deal is the lowest in Major League Soccer, and the average sponsorship for the team is 42 percent of the league’s average. Last October, the Crew ranked 22nd out of 23 teams in sponsorship revenue for the 2018 season, according to Loughnane.

“We get laughed out of rooms when we talk about the league average, let alone $2 million (for jersey rights),” he said. “We have to find corporate support 6 to 7 times of present-day value.”

City officials don’t discuss stadium: Meanwhile, in Austin an item on the City Council work session Tuesday involving soccer was withdrawn. That was not a surprise because city staff is still awaiting input from PSV on its preferred sites.

Thursday’s council meeting still has an MLS agenda item, but it is likely to be postponed until at least March 1.

Mayor candidate uses stadium site discussion to raise funds: Mayoral candidate Laura Morrison is using the parkland issue as a fund raiser. She circulated an email titled, “Chip in and save Austin’s parkland.”

“The city of Austin is considering handing our parkland to the owners of an out-of-state sports team to build a stadium,” the message reads. “Our parkland would be used for private profit. That won’t happen when I’m mayor.”

It closes with tab buttons to contribute $10, $25 or $50 to Morrison’s campaign for mayor in May.

Staff writer Kevin Lyttle contributed to this story.

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