In a press conference yesterday the Hunt Sports Group announced it has sold the Columbus Crew to Precourt Sports Ventures LLC.
"As you guys know, we've been in a process over the last couple of years to find a minority investor, or several minority investors, in the Crew. As part of that process, we were introduced to Anthony Precourt. Anthony came to us and during the summer said: "You know what? I'm not just interested in being a minority owner of the Columbus Crew, I want to own the whole team and run and operate it,'" said Clark Hunt, chairman and CEO of HSG.
Last October, Hunt made clear he was seeking local investors for Columbus's Major League Soccer team, but denied statements made by MLS Commissioner Don Garber in an Oct. interview with Sports Business Journal in which Garber said the Hunts had "made a commitment to get out" of Columbus and were seeking a local buyer.
"The City of Columbus, the Crew and Crew Stadium are extremely important to our family, and that hasn't changed," Hunt said in response, asserting that Garber had "overstated this objective."
In a February interview with Columbus CEO ("Selling Soccer," April 2013) Crew General Manager Mark McCullers, echoed Hunt. "As far as I can see…I see the Hunts involved in it…This club means something to the Hunts. I probably see that more than anybody else," said McCullers. "I see the Hunts in Columbus certainly for the foreseeable future and I've been here, December will be 15 (years) for me that I've been working with this organization."
The Crew has trailed other MLS teams in season ticket sales, attendance and sponsorship agreements. The Crew and the League devised goals for the team to achieve by 2015, namely selling 10,000 season tickets, securing a naming right partner and boosting sponsorship from the Columbus business community.
League average attendance in 2012 reached a record 19,000, while Crew stadium attendance has declined from the team's early years, hovering at 14,343 between 2006 and 2010. The Columbus Dispatch reported last September that 2012 season ticket sales were up 30% from 2011 and per-game attendance at Crew stadium had risen 18% in 2012 to 14,382, making it 14th14th in attendance in in the league.
Barbasol (owned by Dublin-based Perio Inc.) purchased the Crew jersey sponsorship for an undisclosed amount in February 2011. The team has yet to land a stadium naming sponsor.
McCullers signed a four-year contract extension in 2011. The Crew makes its final lease payment of $65,890 on April 1, 2014; the team's stadium lease lasts until 2024.
The Crew has invested $15.91 million in stadium upgrades since 2009, including an LED scoreboard installed last season which caught fire in April, leading to a stadium evacuation just before the DC United game.
As of February, the Crew had plans to invest in a 100-foot tall, $2 million LED sign north of the stadium along Interstate 71. Crew executives hoped the investment would draw stadium naming rights sponsors.
McCullers told Columbus CEO in February that the Crew is aiming for a contract worth $1.8 million annually for 10 years. "We are in more meaningful discussion than we've had in probably five years," said McCullers. "We think 2013 is the year that we're going to get that deal done."
New Crew owner/operator and chairman Anthony Precourt of Precourt Sports Ventures echoed Hunt's earlier commitment to keep the team in Columbus yesterday.
"We have all the resources we need to make the Crew increasingly relevant locally and nationally, stronger financially and more competitive on the field," said Precourt. "I'm very committed to Columbus and I'm here with you. We see a clear path for success here in Columbus."