Other options included remaining in Columbus, but at a new stadium. The team has been in the city since 1996. It was the first charter granted in Major League Soccer.
The team said a major reason for considering changes was low attendance.
“Despite our investments and efforts, the current course is not sustainable,” Anthony Precourt, chief executive officer of Precourt Sports Ventures and chairman of Columbus Crew SC, said. “This Club has ambition to be a standard bearer in MLS, therefore we have no choice but to expand and explore all of our options. This includes a possible move to Austin, which is the largest metropolitan area in North America without a major league sports franchise. Soccer is the world’s game, and with Austin’s growing presence as an international city, combined with its strong multicultural foundation, MLS in Austin could be an ideal fit.”
The owner said they have been in communication with the city and community leaders about potential changes and concerns since early 2016.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther released a statement saying they were surprised to hear the news.
“I have met with the owner and business partners of Crew SC, and shared our thoughts on ways to find the best solutions to keep the team in Columbus. Unfortunately, we did not receive full engagement from the team’s ownership. We were surprised to learn of their decision in this way. Losing the Crew to another city would be a huge disappointment to their loyal and growing fan base in Columbus," Ginther said.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber has shared his thoughts about the team remaining in Columbus.
“Despite PSV’s significant investments and improvements on and off the field, Columbus Crew SC is near the bottom of the League in all business metrics and the Club’s stadium is no longer competitive with other venues across MLS," said Garber. "The League is very reluctant to allow teams to relocate, but based on these factors, we support PSV’s efforts to explore options outside of Columbus, including Austin, provided they find a suitable stadium location.”
Precourt said that league data shows that MLS clubs are most successful when playing at a downtown stadium location or a site that is a destination for the entire community. But Precourt said he's not asking for taxpayer money for a new stadium. But the move does pit Austin against Columbus in the fight to keep or woo the Crew. Jesse Hathaway with the Heartland Institue, an economic think tank, said cities vying for sports teams and funding sports stadiums does not lead to economic development.
"We should be honest about what it is, its corporate welfare," Hathaway said.
A group of business leaders who develop economic projects have been working with Precourt, but apparently missed the signs that Precourt was negotiating with Austin officials.
"We were told that we would be given a heads up when this day was coming and we weren't," said Alex Fischer, with the Columbus Partnership. "We were surprised."
The Partnership even offered to buy the team, but Precourt today said that's not accurate.
"There was no serious offer made to me in regards to an investment in the Crew," he said.