In today’s sports landscape, affluent franchise owners using the threat of moving a team to another market has become an all too well-known bargaining tactic. We have seen this play out time after time. Unfortunately, the fans and municipalities that have supported franchises are the ones hurt.
Sadly, this epidemic in sports has now shown its face in Major League Soccer. The news out of Columbus should concern every supporter in the league. With the exception of Miami, Tampa Bay and later, Chivas, the founding teams are still here, and the supporters of those clubs have built the league into what we see today. Seeing the league act in a complicit manner in this situation is disheartening.
Mr. Anthony Precourt, with the support of Commissioner Don Garber and Major League Soccer, has decided to issue an ultimatum for the city and its supporters. We, as representatives of the Supporters of Major League Soccer, could not be more disappointed.
MLS is a young league. It is a growing league. It is a league that survived its early year’s thanks in large part to loyal supporters who stood by their teams and has grown thanks to tremendous supporter and fan engagement.
If we are to continue the growth of the game throughout the country, we must support those that have invested in markets for over 20 years. We must continue to have a presence in North America’s heartland, and we must have owners and league officials that remain loyal to the supporters that have elevated MLS to the point it is today.
This year it is Columbus that is being held hostage. What club is next? Twenty years ago Columbus was the first club in MLS. They built the first soccer-specific stadium. In 20 more years, many of today’s shiny new jewels will be showing their wear and tear. Make no mistake, if Mr. Precourt is allowed to take fans and the community hostage now with the support of Garber and MLS, owners will do so in the future.
Today, we in the Independent Supporters Council ask that Mr. Precourt and Commissioner Garber work diligently with the City of Columbus and its faithful supporters to keep the team where it started. We call on franchise owners of all other MLS clubs to urge Mr. Garber and Mr. Precourt to negotiate in good faith.
The incredible turnaround of Sporting Kansas City or the rabid fan bases in places like Cincinnati and Atlanta should be a testament to what can happen when an ownership group remains loyal to its city and supporters.
Let the future story of Columbus be as compelling.