As Cincinnati struggles to attract Major League Soccer, Columbus is fighting to keep it from leaving.
Now Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has stepped in and sued Precourt Sport Ventures, the operator of Columbus Crew SC, and the companies that own and lease team's stadium.
DeWine said the suit will force the team to follow already established state law.
“Today I have filed a lawsuit in Franklin County to try to #SaveTheCrew and keep the black and gold in Columbus,” he said. “Loyal Crew fans in Columbus have invested their time and loyalty in this team, and they have allowed the Crew SC to capitalize from financial incentives paid for by their tax dollars."
DeWine cited a 1996 statute passed in reaction to the Cleveland Browns moving to Baltimore. This law states teams who use taxpayer support facilities must give the community six-months notice and an option for a local buy.
DeWine said the MLS team accepted $5 million in state money for parking improvements and $300,000 in city reimbursements for sewer and water changes as well as other tax incentives.
“As I have said, we believe Columbus Crew SC belongs in Columbus. We have a rich history of professional soccer and some of the most loyal and dedicated fans in the league,” said Mayor Andrew J. Ginther (D-Columbus). “Just as importantly, the team plays in a taxpayer-supported facility, and Precourt Sports Ventures and Major League Soccer have accepted financial assistance from the state of Ohio and the City of Columbus. State law provides us with this protection.”
Futbol Club Cincinnati, in its quest for an MLS franchise, is still working to finalize a stadium deal. In an interview Sunday night, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Cincinnati remains an expansion city finalist, as well as Sacramento and Detroit.
On Feb. 28, the league issued a statement via spokesman Dan Courtemanche, who acknowledged Cincinnati's bid has made significant progress, but isn't complete.
“Although we have not finalized any agreements and all of the finalist markets remain under consideration, we have made the most progress in Cincinnati," Courtemanche said. "Also, we continue to have discussions with Sacramento. We don’t have, and don’t need to have a fixed deadline, and we will wait until all of the necessary elements are in place before selecting the next club.
"Whether the announcement is in a few weeks or a couple months is dependent on finalizing the details, but we do not anticipate that it will be an extended period of time.”
Originally, it was believed that an announcement would come in December. Back on Dec. 20, the league announced Nashville would receive an MLS expansion spot. Since then, Cincinnati and the other finalists have waited.
In the meantime, FC Cincinnati inches closer to the start of its season in the United Soccer League, the second tier of American soccer. Cincinnati opens USL competition March 17 when it plays at the Charleston Battery, where it's started each of the last three seasons.