The Major League Soccer franchise that at times seems to have one foot in Columbus, Ohio, and the other in Austin might be kicking away a prime opportunity with both feet.
Anthony Precourt needs to get his stuff together. Now. And so should the city of Austin.
The owner of the Columbus Crew has dilly-dallied for months, courting Austin as a potential new site for his MLS team but also seeking not to offend one of the league’s charter franchises, perhaps as insurance. That ineffective plan is clearly not working. Precourt Sports Ventures has botched the handling of this entire project and allowed opposing forces both in Columbus and Austin to control the narrative.
Meanwhile, Austin’s leadership has been anything but receptive toward Precourt and has offered more roadblocks than welcome wagon parties.
Anyone got any big-boy pants Mr. Precourt could borrow? Mr. Mayor, where are you as the pre-eminent city leader? Precourt has seriously misread this operation to this point, and the city has done little to offer incentive, even disingenuously offering as potential stadium sites two plots of parkland that some city leaders will never support and should never have been on the list if they were unavailable. That’s on the city.
And we’re still curious where Mayor Steve Adler stands. He seemed supportive initially, but it appears he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty, especially in an election year. It requires bold leadership to take a strong stand for something.
Precourt can’t have it both ways. He’s worried that he might be hated in Ohio for leaving Columbus, and he’s worried that he might have already alienated a fan base in Texas that he so desperately craves. And Austin needs to decide whether Major League Soccer would be a good thing for our city. I think it would, and the city should embrace it.
So Precourt’s caught in limbo with either a home that doesn’t love him or a future home whose citizens’ emotions are ambiguous at best and antagonistic at worse. Neither portends well for him.
At this point, Precourt should consider speed-dialing Jim Irsay and get a number for a middle-of-the-night moving fan company. Just dial 1-800-JILT-A-CITY.
Cleveland still despises the Art Modell family for moving the Browns to Baltimore. Baltimore hates the Bob Irsay family for bolting Baltimore for Indianapolis in the wee hours of the morning.
The rest of the country just hates them both for being the Modells and the Irsays and the overall callous way they conduct business.
So get over it, Precourt. Show some fortitude. This is a contact sport.
Make a decision. Either fall on your sword, beg Columbus’ forgiveness and work toward making it work in that city with a new stadium or go in full bore and beg Austin to take you in and then build your stadium on city parkland or another piece of city-offered property or private land or the Burger Center parking lot for that matter, and politic long and hard and sincerely for Austin’s abiding love and affection over the long haul.
Or sell the franchise to a new owner, and let a different ownership group sort it out. After all, Nashville, Tenn., just won an expansion franchise in a beauty pageant of 12 cities all salivating for a team they can call their own. Austin should understand that as well.
It’s Precourt’s call, and he needs to come to grips with the current climate and become bolder and more visible.
Precourt isn’t going to win a popularity contest in either city. No owner ever does when he threatens to pull up roots and leave a city, especially one that has supported the Crew at some level for 22 years. Columbus is invested. Austin is just interested.
Precourt hasn’t made it any easier on himself by slow-playing Austin when it’s obvious to all that his heart’s no longer in Columbus and probably never will be again. He’s smitten with Austin, but Austin has yet to return the favor. They’ve barely been on a first date.
What he should have done was play hardball from the get-go, overwhelm Austin with positive propaganda that he was going to be the first to bring pro sports to our weird little corner of the world and let the chips fall where they may. Sources say the MLS offices have all but given Precourt their blessing to move here.
He could have said from the outset to the 2.1 million in this metro area that he was going to be Austin’s virtual Santa Claus. He could offer all kinds of benefits, financial and otherwise, to the 512 in the form of training camps for soccer youngsters, new jobs with the team, parkland or city land improvements and other tangible benefits. But he hasn’t made it clear to Austin why it’s worth the city’s while.
The hope that pro sports-starved Austin would instantly approve the move and allow Precourt free use of treasured parkland at Butler Shores Metropolitan Park was ill-conceived. The city just thinks too much of its parkland, especially in the heart of this liberal city, to let an intrusive, 20,000-seat soccer stadium go up and add to the noise and crowd congestion that close to the urban core.
That was a non-starter.
Now, the consideration of Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park as a Plan B site has some merit, assuming Precourt would need only a fraction of the nearly 400-acre park in East Austin, but that too could be slipping away. That, of course, would require approval in the form of an election since it involves parkland. Again, if Precourt had announced some plans to enhance the park with little or no interference to the softball fields and disc golf course and parkgoers, maybe that could have a fighting chance.
I’ve got to believe Precourt is nervous that he’s already ticked off Columbus and has made enough missteps to prematurely alienate Austin and put at risk our city’s embrace of the franchise. Maybe he’s thinking he should scotch any attempt to persuade Austin to devote parkland for his stadium and just build at the dreary McKalla Place eyesore, which sits behind a tire store, a 24-pump gas station and a Mexican food trailer on a 24-acre, city-owned site near the Domain just 11½ miles from our offices.
Or maybe Precourt should consider Burger Center, owned by the Austin school district. Maybe that would be the right approach because it wouldn’t need Austin approval, although that facility could be too heavily used and might not be a strong option.
In any event, Precourt has made a royal mess of things with his lack of foresight and lack of transparency, so that if the inaction hasn’t already doomed the concept, it sure has failed to create any sort of positive momentum for his plans. The clock is ticking; the 2018 MLS begins next month.
Of course, there’s always another tactic.
He can always crank up the moving vans.