Ohio AG, City of Columbus sue Crew SC owner to prevent possible relocation

Columbus Crew fans show their support for their team as they play against Toronto FC during the first half of an MLS Eastern Conference championship soccer match Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. The Crew's owner has recently threatened to move the team after the 2018 season. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) -- Months after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine hinted at a possible lawsuit against the ownership group of Columbus Crew SC to prevent the franchise from potentially moving to Austin, Texas, the state and City of Columbus have followed through.

DeWine and the city filed a lawsuit Precourt Sports Ventures -- the owner and operator of Columbus Crew SC, and Major League Soccer, for what they say is to protect Ohio taxpayers’ interests and ensure the team’s owners follow Ohio law should they seek to move the team. PSV has publicly explored a move to Texas since October, citing issues with attendance, location, and amenities. The ownership group has stressed its desire for a stadium location in downtown Columbus.

“Loyal Crew fans in Columbus have invested their time and loyalty in this team, and they have allowed the Crew SC to capitalize from financial incentives paid for by their tax dollars. I am left with no other choice than to file this suit to ensure our laws are followed," DeWine said in a news release.

“As I have said, we believe Columbus Crew SC belongs in Columbus. We have a rich history of professional soccer and some of the most loyal and dedicated fans in the league,” said Mayor Andrew Ginther. “Just as importantly, the team plays in a taxpayer-supported facility, and Precourt Sports Ventures and Major League Soccer have accepted financial assistance from the state of Ohio and the City of Columbus. State law provides us with this protection.”

The lawsuit alleges that the Crew SC and its affiliates have:

  • Accepted the benefits of approximately $5 million in state taxpayer-funded improvements to their parking facilities.
  • Accepted state property tax exemption for the land on which the Crew SC’s home field, Mapfre Stadium, sits.
  • Leased that land from the state at a below-market rate.
  • Accepted more than $300,000 in city taxpayer-funded reimbursements of their costs in moving portions of a storm sewer and constructing a water line.
  • Entered into a Tax Increment Financing and Economic Development Agreement with the city of Columbus to extend Silver Drive to increase access to Mapfre Stadium currently costing the city $1.3 million in tax revenue with the potential total cost of more than $2.1 million.

The suit also asks that during the notice period as outlined in the statute, PSV and MLS offer the city of Columbus and any individual or group of individuals from the Columbus area a reasonable opportunity to buy the Crew SC or negotiate an agreement under which the Crew SC would be permitted to move.

In 1996, following the relocation of the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, the General Assembly enacted Ohio Revised Code 9.67. The narrowly written, common-sense statute applies to owners whose teams use tax-supported facilities and accept financial assistance from the state and its localities. It prohibits owners from moving their teams elsewhere unless they give at least six months advance notice of the intention to move and give the city, an individual, or group of individuals, who live in the area an opportunity to purchase the teams.

While legislation has been on the books for decades, it has yet to be tested in court.

Team Columbus, LLC -- the owners of the Crew SC’s stadium -- and Crew Soccer Stadium, LLC -- the organization that leases the stadium property from the state -- are also named in the lawsuit.

Major League Soccer and Precourt Sports Ventures released a statement late Monday night acknowledging the lawsuit.

Major League Soccer and Precourt Sports Ventures are aware of and are reviewing the litigation filed by the Ohio Attorney General. MLS and PSV will make an additional statement tomorrow following a review of the complaint.
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