Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam are part of a group in deep negotiations to buy Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew and keep the team in Columbus.
The Haslams and the family of Columbus-based orthopedist Dr. Pete Edwards make up the Columbus Partnership, which released a joint statement with MLS on Friday that reads: “Major League Soccer and the Columbus Partnership have been working together for several months on a plan to keep the Crew in Columbus and we have made significant progress.”
It continues: “MLS, the Columbus Partnership and the investor group all agree that for the Club to be successful, it requires strong local owners, long-term corporate support, a strong season ticket base and long-term plans for a stadium, practice facilities and associated sites. MLS is committed to keeping the Crew in Columbus should we continue to make progress on these critical components and agree to key terms with the investor group.”
No deal has been finalized, and an expected sale price remains unknown, but negotiations have progressed far enough that a resolution appears likely.
“While there are many details to be worked out, our alliance is working diligently and collaboratively with to keep the Crew in its community,” the Columbus Partnership said in a statement. “We are very excited about the quiet but deliberate progress that has been made to date and will keep the community updated as this process moves forward.”
The Haslams also released a statement through the Browns’ Twitter account, reading: “We value and appreciate the benefits a professional sports franchise can bring to a community and are hopeful to be a part of the solution to keep the Crew in Columbus. We would invest in a strong infrastructure within the Crew organization so that we can continue our focus and commitment to building a winning Cleveland Browns football team in Northeast Ohio. We look forward to seeing how this process evolves.”
According to ESPN, the investor group is expected to acquire the rights to the Crew — keeping all of the existing players and staff in place — by purchasing an equity stake in the league. Current owner Anthony Precourt would relocate his rights to Austin, Texas, where he has worked with the city council to agree on a plan to build a $200 million, 20,000-seat stadium.
“MLS also remains very committed to [Precourt Sports Ventures’] plan to launch an MLS Club in Austin and is excited for Austin to become a great addition to MLS,” the league said in a statement. “We will continue to work with PSV and the City of Austin on the timing around the launch of that Club.”
Precourt’s attempts to move the Crew to Austin have drawn the ire of fans and started the #SaveOurCrew movement, while also creating a complicated situation involving litigation.
Under the Modell Law — named after Browns owner Art Modell, who moved the team to Baltimore to become the Ravens in 1996 — sports teams that have received state funding must provide six months notice of the intent to relocate, as well as provide local investors a chance to acquire the team. The city of Columbus and office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit against Precourt’s company under that law, but the claim would be dissolved if the Columbus Partnership indeed acquires the Crew.
—Field Level Media