News: Anthony Precourt's Game of Deception
It all began in 1992, this flirtation with Austin. It was then that Anthony Precourt, still an undergraduate at Pepperdine University in California, first fancied becoming the owner of a Major League Soccer (MLS) team in the Texas capital. At least that's what the now-embattled Crew SC owner recently told a Texas radio station.
Nevermind that Crew SC, the first club in MLS history, didn't yet exist in 1992.
If your head's spinning, don't worry — you're not alone. There's been much subterfuge around this Texas oilman's son, we're now learning. Promises slick like black gold seem to slip off Precourt, the latest mega-rich sports owner who appears to be masterful in the art of deception.
For every step forward Precourt seemingly took with Crew SC, three more were headed south to Austin. Or so it seems from this timeline assembled from reporting byThe Columbus Dispatch,Columbus Business First, ESPN,Sports Illustrated,The Austin-American Statesman, the Austin supporters group Supporters Union andThe Austin Business Journal.
Here's a recap of what we've learned up to this point about Precourt's ambitions.
July 30, 2013
Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV) buys the Crew, and immediately Precourt promises he's committed to Columbus long-term. Adam Jardy, the Dispatch Crew beat writer at the time, recently recalled this conversation with Precourt from the day of the purchase announcement:
“And when I asked him if there was any language in the deal binding him and/or the club to Columbus, he acted offended and gave a curt reply, repeating what he said publicly about being committed to the city.”
What we know now is that Precourt's purchase came with an out. He could move the Crew anywhere he wanted after 2023, or he could abscond to Austin like a thief in the night — whenever he felt like it.
The worst. TV. deal. ever. results in, like, 14 people being able to watch games for the next two years. Was Precourt trying to snuff out the red-hot passion of the Nordecke faithful? Let's just say he wasn'tnot doing that.
Nov. 25, 2014
Instead of partnering with a regional minor league soccer team, which would follow MLS precedent and make, you know, sense, the Crew announce anaffiliate relationship with the United Soccer League's (USL) Austin Aztex. So, yeah, this is probably where it all begins.
Former Crew player Brian Dunseth said during an October 2017 airing of his Sirius show “Counter Attack” that PSV started working on the move to Austin at this time.
March 6, 2015
Precourt tells Columbus officials he needs help meeting revenue projections. Shortly after,Precourt tells ESPNFC.com he started looking into other markets and quickly settled on Austin, a city he has “a long-standing affinity” for.
Sometime in 2016
Crew SC begin “strategic planning process” of finding a new Columbus stadium by emailing surveys to fans. Precourt also says the team has no immediate need to move out of Mapfre Stadium, and is merely exploring its “long-term future in Columbus.” He even tells theDispatch he'stired of Crew fans' insecurities over whether he'll ever move the team.
Dec. 15, 2016
Precourt is announced as a member of the MLS expansion committee, even though he's already, reportedly, looking into moving the Crew to Austin. Meanwhile, San Antonio is announced as a finalist for an MLS team.
The Austin soccer community gets a fan survey from Barrett Sports Group on behalf of MLS. This is the same group PSV hired to do the survey for Columbus in October. In the Austin survey, fans are quizzed on what types of stadium they'd prefer, where they'd prefer one and how much they think Austin would support an MLS team.
Beginning of 2017?
Precourt says he told the city he wants a new stadium. City officials dispute this timeline, saying Precourt didn't approach them about a stadium until the summer.
Jan. 31, 2017
This is the deadline to submit a bid for an MLS expansion team. Austin doesn't submit one. The Austin mayor is, in fact, on record saying getting an MLS team is not a priority.
The Supporters Union, an Austin soccer supporters group, publishes a “speculative” article suggesting the Crew will relocate to Austin, because “we also have heard some things.”
MLS Commissioner Don “The Hype Man” Garber tells an SXSW crowd that Austin would be a good fit for MLS.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther says the city and Precourt hold their first discussions on a stadium. Meanwhile, MLS approaches Austin about interest in the league, and talks begin between Crew SC and Austin officials.
The minor league Austin USL team announces it's returning to the Texas capital in 2019.
Crew SC says season tickets are now on-sale for the 2018 season in Columbus.
MLS trademarks “Austin FC” and “Austin Athletic” as potential names, though Precourt later says those names are not definitive options. He's open, in fact, to suggestions from Austin fans.
PSV buys the MLS2ATX.com domain name, but doesn't publish anything.
This is the deadline for Crew SC season ticket holders to opt out of renewals if they don't want 2018 season tickets. This opt-out method is new this year, and as its name implies, it means season ticket holders are automatically given 2018 tickets unless they proactively say they don't want them.
Monday, Oct. 16
Sports Illustrated reporter Grant Wahl posts a story about Precourt angling for a move to Austin, and everyone in Columbus acts shocked, even though Precourt totally left a trail of crumbs behind him.
Tuesday, Oct. 17
PSV releases a statement saying it wants a new Columbus stadium — or else! Meanwhile, MLS2ATX starts posting on social channels, trying to stoke the fires of a heretofore tepid Austin fanbase.
Thursday, Oct. 19
Precourt tweets to Crew SC fans saying, basically, “Sorry! (But not really.)” Meanwhile, Crew SC says it's not issuing refunds to anyone who bought lame-duck tickets for the 2018 season. Again, sorry!
Sunday, Oct. 22
Thousands of Crew SC supporters and city luminaries rally at City Hall to save the club. Will the rally — and all of the other efforts to #SaveTheCrew — be enough?
Wednesday, Oct. 25
Reversing course, the Crew announces it will offer refunds on 2018 season tickets through Nov. 3.
An old axiom suggests only time will tell. But if you're judging by the way Precourt's played the game thus far, there's plenty of evidence to suggest our ardent love of the Crew might have to live, despite what the chant and popular Homage T-shirts say, posthumously.
Correction: A reference to managing partner Dave Greeley was removed. Brian Dunseth said PSV started working on a move to Austin in 2014 on his radio program in Oct. 2017, but Greeley was never mentioned by name. Alive regrets the error.