It's been quite the journey the past year or so for the Columbus Crew SC, the team's fans, the passionate grassroots Save The Crew movement, and the region's leaders that worked quickly to keep the organization in Columbus and secure a committed, solid ownership team.
It started in the fall of 2017, as then Crew owner Anthony Precourt announced intentions to move the team to Austin, Texas. It ended in December 2018, when Major League Soccer signed off on deal to keep the Crew in Columbus and give Austin a new team. Some of the parties involved reflected on that journey at this week's Columbus Metropolitan Club forum, including Columbus Partnership President and CEO Alex Fischer.
"The world of professional sports will be writing and studying what the Save The Crew movement did in Columbus for decades," Fischer said. "And oh by the way isn't it an elegant solution that everybody can win, and I think it's gonna be fantastic in a couple of years when we are hosting the Austin soccer club here in Columbus for a reunion. But the real thank you is to the Edwards and Haslam families. Everybody I've mentioned and a bunch of people I haven't mentioned could have done everything we did and had your two families not come together and stepped up, we wouldn't be here."
Former team physician and now co-owner Pete Edwards Junior says everything that happened the last several months strengthened the story he and others needed to convince the league the Crew needed to stay in Columbus.
"A lot of what Alex and I did in the beginning was to convince MLS that Columbus is a good city, a successful city, and a city that MLS would be much the worse for if they weren't here," Edwards said. "They didn't believe that in the beginning. It took four months, six months to get to that point where they were comfortable that they wanted to be here. They threw us the line, we grabbed on, held on tight, and it's been a long ride since."
Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam joined on as co-owners of the Crew. Dee Haslam admits not knowing a lot about soccer, but recognized something else.
"We did understand how important a sports team is to a community, and to lose a team is devastating," Dee Haslam said. "Hearing the story of the Columbus Crew and how 25 years ago Pete was walking down the hall so excited the city was going to get a soccer team. That's 25 years ago that this family has been so committed to the effort, and the story of a community that's committed to the sport. We're just so appreciative to be part of that story. The other thing is that none of this could have happened if Alex Fischer hadn't worked so hard to bring everybody together. The story of collaboration is truly amazing."
The ownership group hired a club president in Tim Bezbatchenko, a new coach in Caleb Porter, and announced plans to construct a new stadium at the west end of the Arena District.
"It's a new beginning," Haslam said. "The team is in great shape, and the roster is really solid. But from a business standpoint, we're starting a new business here. Our goal is to deliver a great product on the field but also have a great fan experience."
It's been quite the week too leading up the Crew's home opener Saturday against the New York Red Bulls. The team held several events throughout the week, and also announced a partnership with the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Columbus City Schools, and Columbus Recreation and Parks to build a mini-pitch on the grounds of Eakin Elementary. The field will be open to the community and serve as an after-school program site for Soccer for Success. The team also secured a multi-year television deal with SportsTime Ohio and FOX Sports Ohio that includes 33 Crew matches along with pre and postgame shows. As for the new stadium construction, team owners are hoping for the first game to be played in 2021. Mapfre Stadium will then become the team's training facility and a community sports park.