What Precourt's ownership will mean to the Crew
Tuesday marked the beginning of a new era in Columbus. The pioneers of soccer, Hunt Sports Group, sold their investment in the Columbus Crew to Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV).
The Hunts had guided the Crew since the team’s founding in 1994, but as Major League Soccer has expanded, most owners have pared down to operating a single team.
Anthony Precourt takes over a team in transition on and off the field.
On the business side, the Crew play in a 15 year old stadium without naming rights. Average attendance has risen in recent years to over 14,000 people per game, but that only ranks 15th in MLS. Corporate sponsorships have improved in recent years, but it still lags behind other teams in the league.
On the field, the Crew have been sliding down the standings and there may be significant changes in the team once again this offseason.
Precourt will be patient while he learns the ropes, before starting to put his ideas into action for the 2014 season.
That three month learning curve gives him time to study what works with the Crew and what needs to change. It also gives him time to look around the league and emulate ideas that have worked.
There are success stories in MLS over the past few years. Recent entrants, the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers have set the standard for fan support since entering the league. However, they both have a soccer history dating back to NASL and the mid 1970’s.
Two other teams have shown how you can organically build a successful organization in a smaller market. Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City struggled initially, but have found excellent form both on and off the field. They’ve become model franchises.
Real Salt Lake struggled after entering the league in 2005. Results on the field were abysmal, their stadium situation was terrible, and they failed to connect with the Utah business community.
In late 2006, Real Salt Lake was able to find a solid business footing. A multi-million dollar sponsorship with XanGo was completed just after breaking ground on Rio Tinto Stadium.
The committed ownership of sports veteran Dave Checketts guided the organization through the potential minefield that nearly prevented the construction of Rio Tinto. Sponsorships have continued to grow and fans pack the stadium on a weekly basis. They average nearly 18,000 fans since moving, an increase of nearly 2,000.
On the field, they turned to veteran Jason Kreis as head coach in 2007 and then later named Garth Lagerwey to be the General Manager. These two have built a competitive team year after year. They won MLS Cup in 2009 and have made the playoffs five straight years.
Sporting Kansas City was sold by Hunt Sports Group in 2006 to OnGoal, a local ownership group. The team played in cavernous Arrowhead Stadium through 2007. Attendance had dropped to 11,000 and the team had practically no appeal in the community.
OnGoal moved the team to a minor league ball park with an attendance capacity of just over 10,000 while they looked for a permanent home. The setup was extremely poor, but it did buy them time to build Sporting Park in 2011.
Coordinated with the opening of Sporting Park, OnGoal then rebranded the former Kansas City Wizards to Sporting Kansas City. The team moved away from targeting families, instead bringing in the large community of young professionals in the area.
Attendance has risen and the team consistently sells out the 18,000 capacity Sporting Park. The local community is deeply invested in this team. They just hosted the All Star Game and the U.S. National Team now makes Kansas City a frequent stop.
The results on the field have also picked up. Peter Vermes has coached Kansas City since 2009 and has put together a side that plays fluid, physical soccer. Graham Zusi and Matt Besler feature for the National Team. They had the best record in the Eastern Conference in in 2011 and 2012 and are currently leading the the conference once again.
The Columbus Crew aren’t in the dire situation that Kansas City was in and they have been in the community longer than Salt Lake, but there is still plenty of opportunity. Precourt and his team must figure out how to get people in the seats and get businesses to recognize the team as a valuable property.
Precourt says that everything will be examined - ticket sales strategy, corporate partnerships, the stadium situation, and even the badge. No stone will be left unturned in an effort to make the Columbus Crew a first class organization.