It seemed like a long shot for Columbus Crew SC fans when a state lawmaker floated the idea of invoking a 21-year-old law to keep the soccer club from moving to Austin, Texas.
But Ohio's top law enforcement official says he agrees, and will use the law as a tool to try to keep the Major League Soccer team in its original home.
Attorney General Mike DeWine says he's prepared for legal action against Crew owner Anthony Precourt using the so-called Modell Law.
The 1996 law named after former Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, who moved the team to Baltimore months earlier, says owners of teams that play in publicly-supported stadiums have to either get permission from local government leaders to move, or give the local community an opportunity to buy the team before they can move.
“The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has reviewed the law passed after the Browns’ move. We believe the evidence will show that this law would apply to the Columbus Crew and MAPFRE Stadium,” DeWine wrote in a statement.
“As Attorney General, should ownership of the Columbus Crew initiate a move of the team without complying with Ohio law, I am prepared to take the necessary legal action under this law to protect the interests of the State of Ohio and the central Ohio communities which have all invested to make the Columbus Crew a proud part of our Ohio sports tradition and help Mapfre Stadium earn its reputation as ‘Fortress Columbus,'" the statement said.
MAPFRE Stadium sits on state-owned land, and the state recently spent $5 million on parking lot upgrades.
Republican Rep. Mike Duffey first proposed invoking the Modell Law this week, although it’s not clear when the Attorney General’s office starting investigating.
Precourt has said the soccer club is no longer viable in its current home, and he plans to move the team to Austin unless a new downtown stadium is built. MAPFRE Stadium is less than 20 years old, but lacks lucrative club seats and corporate sponsorships.
Precourt has rejected at least two stadium proposals and has said local business leaders have not put together any “serious” or “actionable” proposals to buy the team.
Mayor Andrew Ginther and Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer have disagreed, and say Precourt has shown he’s not committed to remaining in Columbus.