Columbus Crew president talks new stadium possibilities, USA-Mexico
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus Crew president Mark McCullers has been around the sport and its inner workings long enough to know there are no sure bets. But hosting the US national team's World Cup qualifier vs. Mexico in September is as close as it gets in his mind.
"I can't think of one single reason we would not be named," he told MLSsoccer.com.
The facts are indisputable: Columbus gives the USMNT a decidedly pro-American crowd and the Yanks have used that advantage for 2-0 victories over their bitterest rival in 2001, '05 and '09. But as confident as McCullers is, he takes nothing for granted because there are numerous newer venues – such as Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. – that offer amenities never dreamed of when Crew Stadium opened in 1999.
The gray steel structure was the jewel of MLS back then but now lacks the type of parking, locker room space, media facilities, concession areas, video boards and suites that other stadiums have. Now, McCullers says the time is approaching when the team's owner, Hunt Sports Group, will have to decide whether to upgrade Crew Stadium or build a new facility in the area.
"The stadium is 15 years old now," he said. "We don't want to throw good money after bad. We need to start having the discussions about a longer term facility solution for us and that could take a variety of forms.
"We always want to stay competitive. We don't want to give anybody any opportunity to think that USA-Mexico should be anywhere but our stadium for any reason," he added. "That would be a return on an investment to do some things to make sure we continue to be the frontrunner for this match."
Any major stadium plans are tied to the three-year strategy implemented in late 2011 to get the Crew past the break-even point. Securing Barbasol as a jersey sponsor last year was the first step. The second goal of reaching 10,000 season tickets has not been reached although without giving numbers, McCullers said he is confident of getting there.
As for the third benchmark, there have been some inquiries as to stadium naming rights.
When asked if he thought a deal would be in place by the end of the year, he replied, "No. I'm not confident but there's certainly a tremendous sense of urgency to getting it done now for a variety of reasons. I'd be disappointed if we don't, I'll be honest with you."
However, McCullers remains optimistic the Crew will be in the black in the near future.
"We set that three-year horizon back in 2011 so I'm looking at the end of 2014 that it's definitely achievable by then."
On another stadium-related issue, McCullers said the organization is looking at larger venues in the market to host marquee European teams for a summer friendly because ticket prices otherwise would be prohibitive with only 20,000 seats in Crew Stadium.
In the past, the Crew have hosted English clubs West Ham United, Stoke City and Newcastle United, among others.
"I think our fans would appreciate the opportunity to see the Crew play a bigger name international team even if it meant driving a couple of hours to do so," he said.
He cited Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium (72,000 capacity), Lucas Oil Stadium (62,000) in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh's Heinz Field (65,000) as possibilities.
"We've thought about everywhere," McCullers said. "It's just those markets are the ones that have been a little more proactive and interested in talking with us about it."
McCullers didn't give a preference for an opponent but Crew forward Federico Higuaín's younger brother, Gonzalo, does play for Real Madrid.