COLUMBUS, Ohio– Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam are negotiating to buy the Columbus Crew soccer club.
Jimmy Haslam, the CEO of Pilot Flying J, purchased the Browns with his wife in 2012.
The Columbus Crew was one of the founding members of the Major League Soccer in 1994 and played the last 20 seasons at MAPFRE Stadium, the first soccer-specific stadium in the United States. They won the Eastern Conference in 2015.
Precourt Sports Ventures bought the Crew in 2013. Last year, Anthony Precourt announced plans to relocate to Austin, Texas, leading fans to campaign to #SaveTheCrew.
The city of Columbus and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sued Precourt to prevent the team from leaving. Then, more than a month ago, the Austin City Council approved the proposal for a soccer stadium, making many believe the move was a done deal.
Friday, Major League Soccer announced that they, along with the Columbus Partnership, have made significant progress in the plan to keep the Crew in Columbus. They released the following statement:
“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.
Recently, the Haslam Family – along with the Columbus-based Edwards Family, have joined the effort to keep the Crew in Columbus.
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.
MLS recognizes the cooperation of Precourt Sports Ventures has demonstrated throughout the process to date.
MLS also remains very committed to PSV’s plan to launch an MLS Club in Austin and is excited for Austin to become a great addition to MLS. We will continue to work with PSV and the City of Austin on the timing around the launch of that Club.”
The Columbus Partnership, Pete Edwards, Jr. and the Haslams said they are excited to announce their alliance and are optimistic about their recent conversations with MLS regarding the potential sale of the Columbus Crew’s operating rights.
The Haslams released the following statement Friday night:
“We value and appreciate the benefits a professional sports franchise can bring to a community and a re hopeful to be 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.”
Meanwhile, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released a statement sharing his excitement, saying “today is a great day for Crew fans” and that this is “outstanding news for all of Columbus!” His statement reads, in part:
“I am proud of the work our legal team has done in ensuring Ohio’s laws are followed and the door has been kept open to productive negotiations. Our community has invested in this team and deserves the opportunity to keep the black and gold right here, where they belong. I appreciate the efforts of the Haslam and Edwards families, and the Columbus Partnership for their work, and I will continue pursuing the case in court until there is a final deal.
Columbus’s long history as the home of U.S. soccer continues. Central Ohio is not only home to the country’s first professional soccer team and the first soccer-specific stadium; it is also home to the fans that #SavedTheCrew. The dedication, loyalty, and heart of fans shows that the Crew SC community is truly ‘America’s hardest working team.
I look forward to watching a future match of Crew SC and FC Cincinnati!”
MLS also said Friday that “Regardless of any scenario in Columbus, there is a clear path forward for PSV to operate Austin FC as a Major League Soccer club.”
The Haslams aren’t the first Browns owners to buy a soccer team. Former team owner Randy Lerner bought the Aston Villa FC of the Premier League in 2006 and sold it 10 years later.