The president of Precourt Sports Ventures, which owns Columbus Crew SC, met with Austin soccer supporters Wednesday night and sent a short, direct message to those wondering about the club’s intentions.
“We could not be any more serious about this move” to Austin, Dave Greeley told a crowd of about 200 packed into one side of the Black Sheep Lodge, 2108 S. Lamar Blvd.
“When you’re talking about a privately financed Major League Soccer stadium of $150 million to $200 (million) or $250 million, that’s a serious way of saying, “I do.’ ”
Crew SC ownership announced Oct. 17 its desire to move from Ohio’s capital city to the Texas capital if it secures a stadium site for a 20,000- to 25,000-seat facility.
Greeley, who is from Detroit, told an anecdote about former NHL great Wayne Gretzky when asked why move to Austin, the largest city in the United States without a major league franchise and one that has a history of minor league soccer failure.
“Gretzky was asked, ‘Why are you the greatest hockey player of all time?’ He said: ‘The answer is simple. Most players play the puck; my gift is I play where the puck is going to be next.’
“We love where Austin is today, but we really like where it is going tomorrow.”
That brought out a long, loud chant of “Austin, Texas” from the supporters.
Although Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt left the door open slightly to staying in Columbus if the city helps build a new stadium, Greeley spoke in glowing terms about Austin while touching on Columbus’ shortcomings.
“Austin is an incredibly dynamic marketplace,” he said. “It’s a multicultural, international city, very diverse, very inclusive, and that is the essence of the world’s game.
“I want to make two comments about Columbus. There is a dedicated, engaged, hard-core fan base that is as strong as any MLS team’s. Our challenge in Columbus is simple: We don’t have broad-based community support. Secondly, we don’t have the corporate support we need in Columbus.”
Greeley reiterated what Precourt has said: The biggest challenge in Austin is finding a suitable stadium site in the urban core, although Greeley was careful not to geographically define that area.
The City Council will consider a resolution Nov. 9 to have the city work with PSV to identify underutilized city-owned parkland that could house a privately financed stadium.
“The stadium solution is by far the most critical piece,” Greeley said. “I don’t know how long it is going to take, but we have a sense of urgency about it. We’ve got to find out the possibilities.”
The backing of area businesses is nearly as crucial, Greeley added.
“We need that corporate support,” he said, “and if you don’t have it, I hate to say it, but this probably won’t work out.”
Greeley called on soccer fans to get involved in any way possible, and his remarks played to a largely receptive audience.
“I’m highly intrigued,” said Kevin Hutson, a member of the Eberly’s Army supporters group. “When I first heard about the possibility, I was in a little bit of shock, thinking, ‘No way.’ But my expectations are started to get raised; there seems to be positive momentum.
“It probably all comes down to the real estate deal.”
Buck Baccus, president of the extensive Lonestar Soccer Club youth development program, also is encouraged.
“The fact that City Council is taking an interest, perhaps putting parkland on the table, is a breakthrough,” he said. “There are enormous hurdles ahead, but with the owners declaring it will be a privately owned stadium, they are off to quite a positive start.”