Do fans show up and support the team or tune out?
To support Columbus Crew SC entering the 2018 season is to be ambivalent.
Typically, being a fan of a sports team — a real fan, not a fair-weather fan — implies unconditional, impassioned support. You throw your whole heart and soul into it. That's part of the appeal: In a world full of gray uncertainties, you should be able to cheer on your local franchise with absolute, white-hot passion.
For Crew supporters, it's more complicated this year. Since last fall, owner Anthony Precourt has been angling to move the team to Austin because Columbus allegedly doesn't do enough to support this franchise. To remain in Central Ohio without a major uptick in corporate support and ticket sales is not viable, says he. Never mind that other analyses suggest the team is turning a profit and Precourt could be doing a lot more to foster community interest.
On one hand, the relocation threat creates incentive to increase the intensity of your support. Under this line of thinking, every person must do their part to demonstrate just how much this city values its soccer team, both via all-out devotion and fervent evangelism for the cause — if not to change Precourt's mind, at least to make him and his enablers at MLS corporate look foolish.
The grassroots #SaveTheCrew movement has taken this tack. They're attempting to repeat last fall's playoff sellout and fill Mapfre Stadium (hence #FillTheFre) for the March 10 home opener versus Montreal. It's a noble sentiment, but who could blame fans for rejecting it when every dollar you pour into this franchise goes to Precourt?
Drunk on his own self-professed “ambition,” this billionaire oil man's son pissed away whatever goodwill his business had accrued over two-plus decades in Columbus. He was cagey and disingenuous about it, too, apparently plotting to move the Crew for years while daring to insult supporters who worried about his intentions.
Thus, the conundrum: Show up with a busload of your friends and cheer louder than ever? Or boycott, refusing to be held hostage by this carpetbagging bozo from Silicon Valley? Either position is defensible.
On top of that, if you do continue to attend games, do you buy concessions? What about official merch? That new black kit is a beauty, but beyond the queasy feeling that comes with financing Precourt's MLS2ATX astroturfing operation, how can anyone on a budget invest in a jersey with no promise there will be a team beyond this year?
Last fall, in the thick of a playoff race and a lightweight national media frenzy, I argued fans should show up en masse to show the world just how bogus Precourt's arguments are. I still lean that way, personally, but the fact that I feel any conflict about rooting for a team I've loved all my life is enough to make me hate Precourt for creating this scenario. I hope he continues failing professionally forever — just, you know, not as the owner of my favorite soccer team.