Anthony Precourt, the owner of the Columbus Crew, spent most of Wednesday morning talking with members of the media. He admitted that he's in town to meet potential investors, and to scout possible locations for a new stadium; even though staying in Columbus remains an option.
"We are exploring a concurrent path of looking to relocate our team into Austin Texas and also exploring the opportunity to build a downtown stadium in Columbus,” said Precourt.
In saying that, Precourt continues to respond to speculation that he is actually using Austin as Leverage.
“I am not, no, we are sincerely here at this table today talking about relocating our club to Austin, Texas because we think it is the most vibrant untapped market in the United States for soccer,” said Precourt.
Precourt told FOX 7 he wants to find property downtown.
The high cost of real estate in Austin will make it difficult, but Precourt says not finding a downtown spot will not be a deal breaker. "I would redefine downtown as being in the urban core of the community, we want to be in a vibrant part of Austin so fans can enjoy night life before and after games and being in a vibrant entertainment area of town,” said Precourt.
Precourt restated that he is not asking for public funds to help build a stadium if he comes to Austin. He did not rule out asking for economic development tax deals to help offset some costs.
We still don’t know what kind of timetable he is working on regarding a decision about moving.
When it comes to pro sports, Austin's track record isn't great. At least two minor league soccer teams have left. Arena football punted. The Ice Bats fly away. F1 races only once a year. The only two successful franchises play north of Austin; the Stars in Cedar Park and the Express in Round Rock.
"We're very bullish about the opportunities, so that doesn't scare us at all,” said Dave Greely who runs the front office for the Crew. Greely believes they can get people in Central Texas out of the lakes - off the hiking trails - and into game day seats. Other team owners, in the past, have said the same thing.
"We can appreciate that, but time places, they change, and that’s a different time and different place, just like soccer was much different in 1996, then it is in 2017, today Austin is at a different place, and fortunately in the 21st century multi-cultural world, the digital savvy world that’s upon us, the timing is right for Austin,” said Greely. Houston spent just under $100 million on a 22-thousand seat stadium for its MLS team the Dynamo.
Building one in Austin will require securing long term corporate sponsorships. "I believe there are plenty of people here with the means to be able to enjoy this type of entertainment and be willing to support it,” said marketing guru Alejandro Ruelas.
Ruelas is a long time soccer fan and is with LatinWorks. Financial success for any club he says begins with locking down the fan base. "They need to be invited, they need to feel they are a part, the team has to feel there's and I think that’s why a lot of the Mexican teams are successful, just by nature of geography, they've always been very very close to the fan,” said Ruelas.
An example of that passion can be found at an East Austin bar called the Haymaker. Managers there say Austin soccer fans are excited about the possibility of pro soccer coming back to town.
A watch party is set for Sunday afternoon to watch the Crew Match.
But not everyone who has seen the party announcement is happy. A spokesperson for the bar tells FOX 7 that people from Ohio have been giving the Haymaker 1 star reviews on social media sites.
It’s apparently a way to voice displeasure that the owner of their team is in Austin talking relocation.
If the Crew do not move, the buzz may help another ownership group.
Plans are still in place for a minor league soccer team to play at the Circuit of the Americas in 2019.