Major League Soccer announced on Friday that an agreement in principle has been reached with the Haslam and Edwards families to become MLS owners and take over operating rights of Columbus Crew SC beginning in January 2019.
The Haslam family, owners of the NFL's Cleveland Browns, and the Columbus-based Edwards family first emerged as prospective MLS owners in October. Precourt Sports Ventures held Crew SC's operating rights after acquiring them in July 2013 from the Hunt family, who launched the club in 1996.
“After several months of discussions, we are extremely pleased to have reached an agreement in principle with the Haslam and Edwards families for them to assume an ownership position in Major League Soccer and operate Columbus Crew SC starting in January, 2019," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a league statement.
"While we work to finalize the deal promptly, we want to state publicly the tremendous collaboration and community support for Crew SC, which has set the stage for a powerful plan that includes a world-class soccer stadium – a critical step that will help ensure the club’s success on and off the field," Garber continued.
"We appreciate all the diligent work from the Haslam and Edwards families, the leadership from the Columbus Partnership, the City of Columbus, Franklin County and the State of Ohio, Precourt Sports Ventures, and all of those who have contributed over the past several months to create the elements that will solidify Crew SC’s long-term future as an integral part of the Columbus sports scene.”
The announcement comes on the heels of December approvals by state and city officials of a public-private partnership to construct a new downtown soccer stadium for Crew SC.
The Haslam and Edwards families have also collaborated in the search for new soccer operations leadership after Gregg Berhalter departed to take over the U.S. men's national team on December 3.
“When we began exploring the possibility of keeping Crew SC in Columbus, the process started with an appreciation for the benefits a professional sports franchise brings to a region. We quickly began positive discussions with Major League Soccer - the League Office and many of the League’s owners," read a joint statement by Dee Haslam, Jimmy Haslam and Pete Edwards.
“We are extremely grateful for the efforts of the Columbus community, as well as Crew SC fans, to help us efficiently complete and fulfill the requirements and deadlines set by Major League Soccer that will help ensure the success of Crew SC on and off the field," the joint family statement continued.
“Throughout our conversations, it’s been overwhelmingly clear that Crew SC belongs in Columbus, and we are thrilled to have reached an agreement in principle to assume an ownership position in Major League Soccer and to operate Columbus Crew SC. As the stewards of Crew SC, we will always be focused on building a championship caliber team that makes the city proud, creating dynamic and memorable fan experiences and deeply engaging the community to make a positive impact.”
Also on Friday, the City of Columbus and the state of Ohio filed a notice with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to dismiss their joint lawsuit against Major League Soccer and Precourt Sports Ventures.
“We are pleased with the lawsuit dismissal and the outcome that will ensure Major League Soccer teams in both Austin and Columbus," said Anthony Precourt, CEO of Precourt Sports Ventures in a statement. "This elegant solution is the culmination of many months of hard work from Commissioner Garber, the Haslam and Edwards’ families, the local Columbus community, and Precourt Sports Ventures.
"We are happy for the people of Columbus and Crew SC supporters, who helped rally local government and business leaders to keep Crew SC in Columbus. We are proud to have built a strong club which is in position to be successfully transitioned to new operators in 2019.”