Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the city of Columbus filed a lawsuit against the owner of Columbus Crew SC over their proposed move to Austin, Texas.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in the Franklin County court of common pleas, cites "Modell Law" when it argues that Columbus Crew must give at least a six-month notice of any potential move, during which time the city of Columbus or interested locals are given the opportunity to buy the Crew.
“Loyal Crew fans in Columbus have invested their time and loyalty in this team, and they have allowed the Crew SC to capitalize from financial incentives paid for by their tax dollars,” DeWine said in a press release. “I am left with no other choice than to file this suit to ensure our laws are followed.”
DeWine argues that the Crew accepted $5 million in state tax payer-funded improvements to their parking lot, tax exemptions for MAPFRE Stadium, a "well below market rate" lease on state-owned land, and other reimbursements.
According to the lawsuit, a 1996 statute in the Ohio Revised Code “prohibits these owners from moving their teams elsewhere unless they give at least six months advance notice of the intention to move and give the city, an individual, or group of individuals, who live in the area an opportunity to purchase the teams.”
"Modell Law," named after former Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, was intended to keep owners of teams that play in publicly funded stadiums from skipping town. The idea for using it against the Crew was first floated by state Rep. Mike Duffey in December.
In October, Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt and the MLS announced plans to move the team to Austin in 2019, barring construction of a new downtown stadium. Despite attempts by city officials to negotiate with or even purchase the team, Precourt has maintained that staying in Columbus is “not sustainable.”
A clause in Precourt's 2013 contract with the MLS allowed him to move the team to Austin, though that fact was intentionally not made public, according to the lawsuit.
In the meantime, Precourt has pursued locations for a possible Crew stadium in Austin, although he’s hit several setbacks with his preferred sites. Austin leaders remain committed to the move, though.
The lawsuit names Precourt Sports Ventures, Major League Soccer, Team Columbus, LLC, and Crew Soccer Stadium, LLC, as defendants.