The announcement of Columbus Crew SC’s possible move to Austin surprised both fans and city leaders. But it also surprised a San Antonio judge, who said his city was misled about the possibility of getting its own team.
Judge Nelson Wolff said on Monday that the Major League Soccer President Mark Abbott encouraged his county to go forward with the purchase of Toyota Field in San Antonio in 2015, anticipating bringing an MLS team there. At the time, the MLS president said there would not be a franchise in both Austin and San Antonio.
Wolff says Abbott did not mention that Crew owner Anthony Precourt had a clause in his 2013 contract, when he purchased the franchise, that would allow him to move the team to Austin before 2023.
"They need to be called out on this thing,” Wolff says.
If Precourt does indeed have that legal right to move the team, Wolff says it presents a clear conflict of interest. He said he will ask his county's district attorney to investigate the matter and look for possible criminal misconduct.
"Best case scenario is for them to pay us back for what we put into the sale, which would be $9 million,” Wolff says.
Wolff's comments came two weeks after reports of the Crew's potential move to Austin first broke. Precourt says the team is no longer viable here without a downtown stadium.
MAPFRE Stadium is less than 20 years old, but was built cheaply by modern standards. The team also lacks the lucrative corporate sponsorships that team owners covet.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said last week that he and local business leaders planned to meet with Precourt and MLS Commissioner Don Garber about how to potentially keep the team in Columbus.
Garber has expressed support for Precourt and has called the Crew's attendance and business situation "concerning."