Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today sent a letter to Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt notifying him that the state may take legal action should he follow through with his threats to move the Major League Soccer club to Austin, Texas
, if the team doesn't get a new stadium.
The legal basis here dates back to Art Modell, Patron Saint of Shitty Professional Sports Owners. After Modell absconded to Baltimore with the Browns, Ohio passed a law meant to protect cities who funnel tax money to and otherwise financially support stadiums or arenas used by professional sports teams. The nitty gritty of Ohio Revised Code 9.67, passed in 1996: An owner must have permission from the locality to move or give six months' notice and a chance for the city or local investors to buy the team.
“Ohioans are very loyal fans who passionately support our teams and take great civic pride in their accomplishments," DeWine's letter reads. "Our teams are a part of our communities. That is why when ownership moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1995, the Ohio General Assembly took action and passed a law to protect Ohio and its communities when they provide tax-funded support for professional teams’ stadiums. As a United States Senator, I, along with Senator John Glenn and Congressman Louis Stokes, introduced similar legislation in Congress.
“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. 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.’”
Rep. Mike Duffey of Worthington had asked the Ohio AG to review the law, which has never been used/tested before, and its possible application with regard to the Crew. There's certainly debate about its language and what qualifies as "financial assistance." In this case, Duffey and Dewine believe the dots connect — Mapfre's acreage is tax-exempt, and PSV leases the land for parking lots, which recently enjoyed a multimillion dollar renovation at taxpayer expense, at below-market rates.
Precourt and Precourt Sports Venture have been mum on the development other than acknowledging its existence. Meanwhile, they've debuted new renderings for a proposed $200 million stadium in Austin and talks between Columbus, the MLS, and Precourt have essentially come to a halt.