The Columbus Crew may be set to avoid relocation after MLS announced that a new ownership group has emerged to take over the franchise.
One of the original teams from the league's 1996 debut season, the last year has seen uncertainty surrounding the franchise as Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV), the ownership group in charge of the Crew, looked to relocate the team to Austin, Texas.
However, MLS has confirmed Jimmy Haslam, the owner of the NFL's Cleveland Browns, and his family, along with a local ownership group headed by Pete Edwards, Jr. are in discussions to keep the team in Ohio.
“Major League Soccer and the Columbus Partnership have been working together for several months on a plan to keep Crew SC in Columbus and we have made significant progress," the league said in its press release.
"Recently, the Haslam Family – along with the Columbus-based Edwards Family, have joined the effort to keep Crew SC in Columbus.
"MLS, the Columbus Partnership and the investor group all agree that for the club to be successful in Columbus, it requires strong local partners, long-term corporate support, a strong season ticket base and long-term plans for a stadium, practice facilities and associated sites."
The new ownership group, along with Columbus Partnership, a civic organization that has fought to keep the Crew local, also released a statement on Friday.
“We are excited to jointly announce that the Columbus Partnership along with a local investor group led by Pete Edwards, Jr. and Dee and Jimmy Haslam have formed an alliance to continue the collaboration with Major League Soccer to keep the Crew in Columbus," it reads.
"We are optimistic about our recent conversations with MLS regarding the potential sale of the operating rights of the Columbus Crew.
Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV), the current Crew ownership group, also seems on the path to getting what it wants out of the deal.
While PSV will still have drop operating rights of the Crew for the club to stay in its current location, MLS still believes the ownership group has a straight-forward path to bringing a club to Austin, Texas.
"MLS recognizes the cooperation Precourt Sports Ventures has demonstrated throughout the process to date," the release states.
"MLS also remains very committed to PSV’s plan to launch an MLS club in Austin and is excited for Austin to become a great addition to MLS. We will continue to work with PSV and the City of Austin on the timing around the launch of Austin FC.”
A Sports Illustrated report claims that the most likely way forward will involve the league selling the operating rights to the Columbus outfit to the investor group while PSV keeps an equity stake in the league and Soccer United Marketing, allowing it to form the new Austin team.