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Why the Columbus Crew sell is big news for MLS

Jul 30, 2013, 6:36 PM EDT

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KANSAS CITY – Hunt Sports Group has seemed on the verge of selling Columbus for years, never in a particular hurry, but apparently willing to entertain the right offer.

So while Tuesday’s big news was a surprise in its timing (happening with so little warning), the announced ownership handoff from HSG to San Francisco businessman J. Anthony Precourt was not wholly surprising in the bigger picture.

It is certainly historic in the bigger picture. Here’s why:

For the first time in league history, Hunt Sports Group presides over just one MLS club, as the ownership diversification – such an important initiative for MLS commissioner Don Garber just a few years ago – is nearly complete.

The Hunt family originally owned Kansas City and Columbus at league launch in 1996. Later, HSG also gained control of Dallas. For the 2004 season the Hunts controlled 30 percent of Major League Soccer’s club.

Back then, essentially, only the Hunts and billionaire Phil Anschutz stood between the league and total financial collapse. Clearly, that’s not the kind of stable footing an operation with strong survival instincts wants.

So Garber worked hard to create that critical ownership diversity. Gradually over the last decade, Major League Soccer has gone from five owners to about 19, depending on how you count Houston Dynamo minority owner Oscar de la Hoya.

For the first time in league history, Hunt Sports Group is down to one team, which is FC Dallas.

I ran into Clark Hunt today at the MLS hotel in Kansas City, offering congratulations over the sell – and then immediately wondering about the appropriateness of such a thing. We had a quick laugh about it, but Hunt told me there were definitely some mixed feelings about it all.

  1. P1s For Soccer Talk - Jul 30, 2013 at 11:12 PM

    We didn’t hear a word about this big news on Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket in Dallas today. With HSG based in Dallas, along with FC Dallas of course, you’d think the “All sports all the time” station would’ve mentioned it. Sadly, we’re pretty sure they didn’t. Join us in supporting soccer talk on the radio by following us on Twitter and/or Facebbok. Even if you’re not in Dallas, remember soccer talk anywhere helps soccer talk everywhere.

  2. east96st - Jul 31, 2013 at 12:21 AM

    No surprise here in Columbus. It’s been obvious for quite awhile the Hunts had no interest in the Crew and were merely waiting for the right offer. Can’t help but feel this is the beginning of the end for Columbus, though. All of Precourt’s promises to stay in Columbus have the feel of “the check’s in the mail”. When he didn’t even know how to pronounce the supporter’s section, Nordecke, you got the impression the guy wanted to own the team, but was not truly interested in it’s traditions, culture, and fans. Why get too close to the girl you intend to leave, right? Mr. Precourt lives in San Fran and I can’t help but wonder whether the Crew will end up there someday soon, as well.

    • brucewaynewins - Jul 31, 2013 at 2:45 PM

      Considering the Nordecke name is German and not English I’d give him a free pass on that one. I myself have had to learn the pronunciation myself. I was born in the US and English is my native language. I’ve been to a few games and love sitting in that section.

      That said I dontnthinknit matters much if he wants to move the franchise. Ownership model is different in the MLS vs nba, NHL, nfl, MLB. Garber has say in that mattering pretty much runs things to ensure the health and future and stability of the young league. Letting owners move where they want would be a bad move if teams start failing in new markets and fan bases lose trust as franchises move. Also Garber said several years ago that having a team in Ohio was important to him. I doubt he wants to move a team out of CBUS and then worry about putting a team back in Ohio at some point. He likes the population size of Ohio as do most leagues.

      • east96st - Jul 31, 2013 at 5:10 PM

        Yes, the Nordecke is German. But you only have to go to one game and listen to the announcements – or ask the guy sitting next to you – it’s not really all that hard. It sounds very much like it’s spelled. If you really “had to learn” to pronounce that, you have my deepest sympathies. My six year old picked it up at her first game. As for you thinking it doesn’t matter whether he wants to move the franchise, are you really that naive? Garber works with the owners. Cbus has been bleeding cash for years. A new, very wealthy owner says, “Hey, I can’t make the dollars work here.” and all Garber will say is, “Okay.”. As for having a team in Ohio being important to Garber, you really believe that? He was asked by Ohio reporters if the Crew was leaving. So, he said what they wanted to hear. It’s called humoring the press. Crew games are already more than half empty. Garber knows if he announced, “Yeah, we’re looking to move the Crew”, it would have been the death stroke. Frankly, it’s completely irrelevant what the size of Ohio’s population is. It’s how many go to the games. Why should the MLS care if even 100 million people lived in Ohio but they didn’t go to or watch the games? Have you ever run a business? It’s about results. And Cbus has been delivering very sub par results for an extended period of time. You want to believe that Precourt is married to Cbus, you go right ahead. Tell Santa and the tooth fairy I said “Hi”.

  3. brownmarie3124 - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:36 AM

    If you think Keith`s story is incredible…, won weak-ago my auntie’s best friend actually earned $8617 putting in sixteen hours a week at home and there friend’s aunt`s neighbour done this for nine months and got paid more than $8617 part time at there pc. use the steps on this address, BAM21.com

  4. hildezero - Aug 2, 2013 at 1:25 AM

    This sale of Columbus also helps Dallas, because the Hunts can now focus on one franchise.

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