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Op-ed: Mapfre Stadium sucks, support sucks, Precourt doesn’t suck [that badly]

Let’s be honest.

Anthony Precourt isn’t exactly a forthright individual, but his decision to move the Crew is sound from a business perspective. Despite the furor over his efforts to relocate to Austin, Columbus has not supported this team nearly as much as people are claiming. Attendance is consistently low, as is revenue. Success on the field means little because over the lifetime of the franchise, postseason attendance has been lower than regular season attendance.

Even Soccer Standings Digest referred to Crew attendance as a “free-fall.”

(Side note: We are not referring to those of you who have been season ticket holders since day one. Your support is not in question. But unfortunately, a small, dedicated group of Crew fans cannot carry the weight of the entire city.)

Why wouldn’t Precourt and MLS want to move?

Mapfre Stadium is a cheap, soccer-specific piece of crap, hastily erected at the fairgrounds because the Ohio Exposition Center could leverage a low cost lease into fleecing soccer fans for parking. They also banked on the MLS folding, and being able to buy a bargain arena for concerts during the Ohio State Fair. Mapfre is too small to afford the team and the MLS the seating potential required by today’s standards. Additionally, the location—which is isolated from everything other than a sketchy neighborhood, Lowes, and the State Trooper Training academy—is not conducive to stimulating attendance. It’s a detriment. Every week thousands of people talk themselves out of going to a game because it’s a drag. There are no bars or restaurants within walking distance for pre and post game festivities. There’s also no walk-up traffic, like you see at Huntington Park.

Columbus’s leaders dropped the ball, much like they did when Stone came calling. They were clueless about craft beer, just as they were clueless about the success the MLS is enjoying in other cities. The leaders of this community didn’t ask why other teams were drawing twice as many people to MLS games. They didn’t investigate if moving he Crew to the Arena district might help bring people downtown during the NHL’s offseason. Nope, they sat around scheming to give developers more tax breaks while the owner of the Crew had to figure out how to turn around a failing franchise. He’s no saint, but he definitely isn’t a villain.

Nobody wants to lose the Crew, but failing to be honest about why Precourt is trying to move the team isn’t going to solve the problem. We didn’t get behind the Crew until the team started packing its bags. That’s the only leverage the MLS and Precourt have. Precourt doesn’t owe us anything.

If we want to keep this team, we need to make things right. That starts with facing the truth.

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