COLUMBUS, Ohio – After more than a year of turmoil in Columbus, Wednesday marked the official announcement that Columbus Crew SC have been saved.
And while Columbus fans were more than happy to celebrate the team’s new ownership group no matter what, those new owners made it clear that they have aspirations beyond operating as just another MLS club.
Dee Haslam – representing the Haslam family, known for their ownership of the Cleveland Browns – and Pete Edwards – the former team doctor representing the Edwards family, known for their central Ohio development resumé – spoke as representatives of the team’s new ownership on Wednesday.
And after thanking fans and city leaders, both Haslam and Edwards pointed to the team’s hiring of head coach Caleb Porter and president Tim Bezbatchenko as indications of their goals.
“I think you see that,” Haslam said. “You know the people we’ve hired and you see that there’s a commitment to do everything we can. Obviously, it’s a big investment. We’re committed to winning, and that’s what’s important. We obviously have experience not winning [with the Browns], so winning is so important and we get that message loud and clear.”
Edwards praised the Haslam family’s involvement, and said he expects the team to be more “aggressive” with the new ownership group.
“We wouldn’t be here today without their support and their experience,” he said. “The value that they bring to the partnership in professional sports management is unparalleled, and without them this project really wouldn’t have happened.”
Haslam said her family has three main focuses: Team leadership, fan engagement and giving back to the community.
With Porter and Bezbatchenko already in the fray, Haslam said the first part of that process is going well.
“We feel very, very, very good with where we are there,” she said.
Next, she said the focus will quickly turn to the fans that helped keep the team in Columbus.
“Our fans are so important to us, and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to take care of you,” she said. “So we’ll continue to do that and work very hard there.”
Finally, she said the Haslams will be “deeply” involved in the community, both with projects like the planned community soccer complex and with their physical presence.
“We’ll start doing that immediately,” she said. “You’ll see us out and about. You may get a little tired of seeing us.”
That mentality fits perfectly with what Edwards has said he wanted in an ownership group. He said their work is “about our community” and wants an ownership group that mirrors his own family’s connection to Columbus and the Crew.
“My family has been blessed to grow up with this team,” he said. “I’ve been involved with the team since the first day. My children have been around the players and the games for 25 years. … That family connection is really, really important. The traditions that have been born through 25 years of soccer are going to continue and we’re going to support the family atmosphere of the team.”