Stoppage Time: Columbus chairman and investor/operator Anthony Precourt
The subject: After surveying several potential investments in the professional sports world, Anthony Precourt closed a deal to purchase the Columbus Crew and Crew Stadium last July. His active and engaged approach since taking charge of the team reflects his desire to alter the perception of the club in the local community and improve results on and off the field.
Precourt – the managing partner of Precourt Capital Management, an investment management and private equity investment firm based in San Francisco – spoke with Inside MLS by phone last week about the changes he has made and the Crew's place in this evolving league. A portion of that interview appears below, edited for clarity and length.
You just purchased the club and the stadium last year. Most people in your position would postpone capital expenditures. Instead, you moved quickly to upgrade portions of Crew Stadium and improve other club facilities at a significant cost. Why did you act so promptly?
Precourt: “We want to do things right. We are a major-league franchise. I think there were certain things that needed to be done to get up to the level I think we should be at as a professional soccer club. We want to treat everyone well.
We also want it to let it be known that there's a new era in town. We're not the Hunts. No one should assume we are the Hunts. I have great respect for the Hunt family and all they have done for Major League Soccer in bringing the first soccer-specific stadium to MLS. But we're going to do things differently and we wanted everyone to know that. We're going to be aggressive and hungry. We have high expectations.”
How much of that ambition extends to the external brand?
Precourt: “That's a big priority for us. It takes time. There's a process with the league and with adidas. We will be introducing some changes to our brand in 2015. We love the name Columbus Crew. We love the colors. We love black and gold. That never changes.
We're looking at ways we can evolve and change our logo. We want it to represent the Columbus we've come to know. I don't think a construction crew is really representative. [Columbus is] not a blue-collar, manufacturing, industrial town. It's a smart, young, progressive university town with world-class businesses. It's a white-collar town. We want to be representative. We don't see Columbus in the crest. There are things we can do to represent the capital city better.”
What went through your mind as you saw other teams make big money acquisitions and tempt U.S. national team players to return to the league over the past few months? Have those moves changed the landscape for your team?
Precourt: “It's a testament to where we are as a league. We're attractive enough for the players to come back. I think it's huge. I'm thrilled that Michael Bradley is back in Major League Soccer. He's my favorite player on the national team. We're excited to have our Michael Parkhurst back (too). …
How do we react to it? I'll just be candid: I was floored by the numbers. The numbers were huge. There's a flip side to that (for us). That's not the type of acquisition we can support in our own market yet. We evaluated it. I think, in Michael Bradley's case, there were commercial angles and things like that we explored and thought about, but, at the end of the day, that's a huge contract, a lot more than he was getting paid to play in Europe."
Do you think those sorts of acquisitions influence the amount of resources the Crew needs to expend on its playing staff?
Precourt: “We have a plan. We think it's a formula for success. I don't think it's all that different than Real Salt Lake, Portland, our MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City, Houston, San Jose Earthquakes. Those teams are smart. They build a team. That's the type of model we're going to follow. I don't believe we're going to be a Red Bull, Los Angeles, Toronto FC type of business model.”
The teams you mentioned have all achieved plenty of success in this league. Do you think the landscape is still amenable to that approach in the wake of these deals?
Precourt: “We'll see. I think that's a big question on everybody's mind. We'll see how Toronto FC plays (this) year. We're going to be competitive. We'll look at every opportunity that comes our way and make the decision accordingly.”
How excited are you to watch everything come together over the next year or two?
Precourt: “I'm on top of the world. It's been a true joy. It's been a lot of work and there's a lot of work still to do. But it's been some of the best days of my life. I can't wait for the season to start and see how it all unfolds. Some of the decisions we're making in terms of our brand will take a year to come to fruition. It's going to be an exciting 18 months.”
“My first Crew game was the scoreboard fire. That was top of my list (of things to upgrade). If that had happened at 'dos a cero,' it would have been a really embarrassing situation for our organization. The technology hadn't been upgraded since the beginning. It was time. I think that will really improve the fan experience.”