Against all odds, a grassroots gang of locals compelled MLS to keep the Crew in Columbus
This world offers seemingly infinite paths to frustration, cynicism and hopelessness, but for the masochists among us, here’s a shortcut: Devote your life to an objective that is, practically speaking, entirely out of your control — one that requires the cooperation of multiple fabulously wealthy people, several overlapping government authorities and a multi-million dollar corporation that has already devoted significant resources toward the thing you are attempting to prevent.
Keeping the Crew in Columbus was that kind of task. Investor-operator Anthony Precourt and MLS Commissioner Don Garber were pursuing options in Austin, Texas. A move felt inevitable. Yet the team remains here, under control of local investor-operators for the first time, with a first-class Downtown stadium in the works. That outcome required the cooperation of countless people on a seemingly impossible timeline, and every one of them says it wouldn’t have happened without Save the Crew.
In the wake of Precourt’s announcement, a few dozen hardcore supporters began brainstorming ways to keep the Crew here. They staged a thousands-strong rally at City Hall. They gave interviews to anyone who’d listen, including BBC World Service. They filmed a video petitioning Austin residents to consider their plight, which ended up on ESPN.com. They put their message in front of millions of TV viewers via savvy opportunism. They compellingly argued that Precourt’s negligence contributed to the team’s business struggles. They kicked ass on social media. They became a viral global movement.
Save the Crew amounted to more than just good PR. The group got more than 10,000 people to commit to a multi-ticket package if the Crew was saved. It recruited dozens of local businesses as corporate allies. It launched a community service program that continues now that the Crew remains, providing equipment for youth teams and Crew tickets for refugees.
The group’s dedication paid off. The groundswell of support caught the attention of Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, who partnered with the Columbus-based Edwards family to buy the team, delighting Crew fans and funneling $650 million of private investment into the area.
Save the Crew’s relentlessness also encouraged local officials to get a stadium deal done. Mike Brown, Chief of Staff for City Council President Shannon Hardin, said you can’t understate the impact of a unified group of citizens knocking on doors, sending emails and otherwise agitating for their cause. “It’s hard to look at a group like that,” Brown said, “and just say, ‘No, we don’t think that’s important.’”
With a nod to those who’ve complained about all this money and effort being spent to keep a sports franchise rather than more urgent causes, Brown added, “I would love to see that kind of energy applied to some other problems in our region.”
That’s the thing: Even if you don’t care about soccer, you can’t knock the hustle. Save the Crew is a model for how people can come together to change their community. They worked together. They stayed positive. They pursued every available avenue. And, the bleaker their situation looked, the harder they fought. If these like-minded citizens were able to accomplish the impossible, who’s to say what other miracles the people of Columbus can pull off?