Thursday, October 19, 2017

Really??? Columbus Crew Fans, You're Angry???

By: Vidda Grubin

Really??? Columbus Crew Fans, You’re Angry???

In 1996 (Truthfully 1994) Lamar Hunt brought Major League Soccer to Columbus, Ohio. Interestingly, very few Columbus soccer fans said, “Why?”

That simple question, “Why?” why did Lamar Hunt choose Columbus, is the magnifying lens screaming down at the once sleepy, moderately sized town with 1000X power. The minutiae in the petri dish known as Columbus, C-Bus, The Heart of Ohio, Funky C (okay, I made that one up), under the awesome strength of the “Why?” lens, becomes ants the size of the Leveque Tower, dust particles bigger than Nationwide Insurance headquarters and Les Wexner taller than, well, Les Wexner.

That minutiae consists of many things, perhaps most importantly, Columbus’ role as the capital of Ohio, a few Fortune 500 companies, tOhio State University, the popularity of soccer in Ohio, the cost of living and doing business in Columbus and the former lack of major professional sports franchises in Columbus. Those and other bits of Columbus in the early 90’s peaked Lamar Hunt’s interest when he was searching the United States of America for a few towns to call home to his multiple Major League Soccer franchises. And each of those tiny bits, magnified 1000X, tells the story of “Why?”

The simple (and it is quite simple) story of “Why?” is a tragic comedy, whose ending is sardonic laughter beginning deep within the bowels of Columbus business elites, tOSU and Major League Soccer’s billionaire owners. For years the laughter rumbled and bubbled inside their intestines’, gurgled and burned upward through their esophagus’ and then exploded like so much Saturday night beer and tacos over the entirety of Columbus Crew loving fandom on October 17, 2017.

Like most stories in tUSA, this one begins with a bunch of men giving away land to which they perceived themselves entitled. Columbus and tOSU became places on a map. Much agriculture, buggy and beer making later and presto! 1996 Columbus, Ohio.

Lamar Hunt peered in on Columbus and saw steady growth, few valleys and mountains on the economic graph representing the “Bus” and a safe place to hide an asset until it matured and flourished or needed to be picked-up and ceremoniously moved to the next stop on the modern version of yesterday’s carnivals, American Professional Sports.

Some of the minutiae in Funky C wanted to stay minutiae. tOSU said “You can use our stadium, for a hefty fee, but don’t be loud and obnoxious, know your place and, mostly, pretend we don’t exist. Deal?” Lamar smiled and signed on the dotted line. He had plans, plans that could yield some ripe fruit or be dug-up in the future and transplanted elsewhere.

Business and money in Columbus was skeptical. Soccer?

Though unsure, some were willing to step under the magnifying glass, it was, although soccer, professional sports. Never underestimate the ego. The ego wants what the ego wants. But business and money in Columbus was only willing to take on a tiny fraction of ownership of the fledgling soccer franchise and league. There would be no real “takers” amongst the native Columbus money elites.

For those who started and put millions into the business, the first sixteen years of the carnival known as Major League Soccer was a battle of epic proportions. Failed franchises and an almost failed league later, Lamar Hunt and others enlisted the millions of soccer fans in tUSA and survived the war triumphant. Alas, Lamar would not see his league thrive, having passed away December 14, 2006. RIP, sir, you were a visionary among the timid.

When Lamar Hunt’s sons decided to sell the Columbus franchise in 2013, the only taker at a reasonable price was Anthony Precourt’s, Precourt Sports Ventures LLC of California. The selling price, reportedly, 68 million dollars, stadium included. That magnifying glass was all powerful in 2013.

Why in the world were there no local business and money elites willing to buy the Crew franchise? The league was finally on relatively solid footing. Columbus was in the midst of a boom likely to continue for years to come, and a professional soccer franchise catering to the tens of thousands of local soccer fans and the tens of thousands of possible transplant soccer fans in the 25-45 demographic seemed to be a no-brainer.

The simple answer, Columbus is still the Columbus of fifty years ago. Quiet houses, dinners out, maybe a show and The Ohio State University and its athletics. The powers that be in Columbus, the money and political elites never gave a damn about soccer or the Columbus Crew. It was easy keeping the whole black and gold thing at arms-length, no risk and young people be damned. In the minds of those who own Columbus, this thought: “Eventually, all those kids will do exactly what I do, go to dinner, talk about tOSU, and mow their lawns on Sunday. We don’t need soccer.”

So, Really??? Columbus Crew Fans, You’re Angry???

A business, that is solely in the business of making money, with franchises just like McDonalds, decided to move a franchise to a different location, while the local people with money and power never in 20+ years showed any interest in the franchise.

And you are surprised and upset. Really???

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