Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt was in Austin Wednesday afternoon, just a day after announcing the club was looking into the possibility of relocating to Austin.
“This is a true interest in Austin. We've had a sincere interest in looking at Austin, and that's what we're here to talk about,” Precourt explained.
He bought the team in 2013, and they’ve since experienced on-pitch success. But they’ve struggled recently attracting fans to games, ranking in the league’s bottom-three in attendance.
Precourt has requested a new stadium in Columbus but said public funding for a stadium in Austin was not a prerequisite for relocation.
“We will privately finance the building of a new stadium here in Austin. There will be no public tax dollars used,” Precourt said.
On Tuesday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he hadn’t heard any conversations asking for public funding, calling the proposition “unlikely.”
In a statement to the team’s fans, Precourt said the team would remain in Columbus in 2018, but wouldn’t commit to any future date.
On Wednesday, Precourt said there was no timeline in place for a possible relocation.
In a statement, UT Athletic Director Mike Perrin told KVUE of a potential move, “We are aware of MLS interest in Austin and have no opposition to exploring possible collaborative opportunities."
As for possibly working with UT to host games as a stadium is being built, Precourt said an agreement between the sides is “premature.”
“We have made introductions to them, and we would look forward to having a conversation with them about a temporary solution if we were to finalize a stadium site and begin building a soccer-specific stadium," said Precourt.
While no location has been specifically designated for a stadium, Precourt explained what the league and ownership are looking for.
“Stadiums and teams flourish in the urban core. So we say downtown or urban core. We want to be in a vibrant part of town,” said Precourt, estimating a stadium would have about a 20,000-seat capacity.
As for a potential sale, Precourt shot down reports that business owners in Columbus were interested in purchasing the franchise.
“There were no serious offers presented to us in regards to purchasing the team. There’s no validity to that. And the team’s not for sale. I would be open and I’ve said this in Columbus in the past, and now in Austin, we’re open to bringing in local investors as limited partners in the company,” said Precourt.
For Josh Babetski, the President of MLS in Austin Supporters Group, said the reported interest is exciting.
“Massive. For almost four years, this has been kind of our focus and our mission. So to hit such a huge milestone like being on the cusp of bringing a team here is very exciting for myself and members of the Austin Supporters community,” said Babetski.
Austin is the nation’s largest city without a professional sports team, though a lot of growth has been from outsiders, leading to a transient population. Babetski believes that would be beneficial to establishing a fan base.
“That growing part of the population doesn't have that local team to anchor it to. So I think they're going to gravitate towards it very quickly. So I see it as a very positive thing,” said Babetski, as he pointed to citywide interest in soccer.