Columbus Crew owner ready to finance a new stadium by himself

Columbus Crew Investor-Operator and Chairman Anthony Precourt talking with KXAN's Roger Wallace on Oct. 18, 2017. (KXAN Photo)
Columbus Crew Investor-Operator and Chairman Anthony Precourt talking with KXAN's Roger Wallace on Oct. 18, 2017. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Within a day of announcing that Columbus Crew could make the move to Austin, team owner Anthony Precourt flew to Austin to begin the process of possibly relocating his team.

As Major League Soccer fans wait for the final determination, which could take up to nine months, KXAN’s Roger Wallace spoke to Precourt one-on-one about why Austin is so attractive to the team.

KXAN: Why does this feel like it’s a done deal — that MLS is coming to Austin? Can you tell me what has to happen before that occurs?

Precourt: It’s by no means a done deal but we are here today, we are excited to kick things off. For us, the key is going to be finding the right stadium location in the urban fabric of Austin, so that’s what we’re going to start work on in the coming months.

KXAN: Do you anticipate some people stepping up and putting together a package that you have to look at for a stadium?

Precourt: We’re running in concurrent paths, so we’re going down the process over the next few months. But we’re here in Austin today and we’re excited to kick things off here.

KXAN: What is your attraction to Austin for MLS soccer?

Precourt: I think it’s the most attractive, untapped MLS 3.0 market in the country. It’s got all of the ingredients that would be attractive for a soccer club in terms of the community. It’s millennial, it’s multicultural. It’s nationally and internationally relevant as a city. It’s a got a great economy. The Keep Austin weird counterculture I think fits really well with soccer culture. Soccer is inclusive — it’s the world’s global game. And I think that’s a great fit with the culture of Austin.

KXAN: Regarding the stadium, where and who finances it?

Precourt: We intend to privately finance the stadium. We don’t intend to use any public dollars, tax dollars, to finance the stadium. We have to find the stadium site and that’s what we’re here to start looking into.

KXAN: Is that also with investors — do you anticipate local investors to help finance it?

Precourt: We would welcome bringing in local investors.

KXAN: But are you prepared to finance it yourself?

Precourt: Yes.

KXAN: Circuit of the Americas has a stake in soccer — they’re building a stadium for USL franchise — is anything with them fitting into your plans?

Precourt: We’re going to sit down, and I look forward to meeting with Bobby Epstein and we’ll see if he has any interest. I haven’t had a chance to meet with him yet.

KXAN: You mentioned a downtown feel to the stadium. Is the Austin-American Statesman building an option you’re looking at?

Precourt: I think it would be premature to comment on any stadium locations specifically. Obviously, that’s one of the most attractive pieces of land in the state of Texas. Beautiful waterfront property but we couldn’t comment on anything at this time.

KXAN: There’s a lot of cities going through the expansion process — one is San Antonio — is this strictly about Austin or staying in Columbus? Or no other players in this?

Precourt: No comment.

KXAN: The attendance in Columbus is a concern. Has there been research in Austin that you can draw — I don’t know what the number is, 15,000, 20,000, 25,000 fans for your home schedule?

Precourt: We’ll have 17 home matches plus, hopefully, be competing in the playoffs year in and year out. So we got 20-plus games a year. We believe, again, Austin has all the ingredients to be an extremely successful MLS 3.0 marketplace.

KXAN: Is there a stadium size that is optimal for what you’re looking at?

Precourt: Approximately 20,000.

KXAN: What is the MLS experience?

Precourt: There’s so many vibrant markets in MLS already. Look at what’s going on in Portland, Atlanta, Orlando, Kansas City. I can go on and on. There are so many vibrant MLS marketplaces. Start watching MLS Live and watch the Saturday night matches and see the ambiance on game day. Vibrant supporter sections. Great play. The quality of play in our league has dramatically improved and I anticipate will continue to improve dramatically with the ambitions of the league and the investment we’re willing to make in world class soccer players. The infrastructure that has been built over the last few years — there are some beautiful, new stadiums that have come online. The fan experience is really world class.

KXAN: What was your attraction to Major League Soccer?

Precourt: I caught wind of what was going on in Cascadia, you know, watching the vibrancy of MLS in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. I grew up playing soccer, I’ve been a fan of the national team since I was a little boy — the men’s and women’s team. Soccer has been in my blood for a long, long time. My grandfather played, he was an All-American in college. Soccer has been a part of our family for generations.

KXAN: Have you had any discussions with UT at Meyer Stadium?

Precourt: To discuss any deals would be premature but we’ve had introductory discussions with the University of Texas and we look forward to having conversations down the road.

KXAN: If this were to come to fruition, would that be a 2-year interim before a stadium could be built?

Precourt: One to two years — depending on timelines — but probably two years maximum for an interim stadium.

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