There are two things currently going on in the soccer world that are holding my interest right now. The effort of soccer fans in Ohio to #SaveTheCrew from Anthony Precourt's attempts to move the Columbus Crew to Austin, Texas, a process streamlined by some shady contract details that Major League Soccer allowed. And the effort of two different groups to bring pro soccer to the recently saved from bankruptcy city of Hartford, Connecticut.
First, Save the Crew. Plenty has been written by people better than me about why this a sneaky, spineless, generally awful thing to happen. But I want to look ahead to the future of soccer in Columbus, Ohio.
Some of you may be familiar with the story of FC United of Manchester. A group of fans, unhappy with the purchase of Manchester United by the Glazers and it's growing debt, started a fan owned team called FC United of Manchester. And there weren't many of them behind the effort to start. Yet FC United now has a world wide cult following and it's own stadium.
Personally, I don't think MLS cares about Columbus. Precourt certainly doesn't. So I'm pretty convinced that Columbus is out of the league come 2019. So what are soccer fans, and the business owners who tried to purchase part of the Crew last year, to do?
Fortunately, the chaos of American soccer right now also creates opportunity. Chaos is a ladder, after all. I want to look at two options that are open to the people interested in keeping soccer in Columbus. NISA and the amateur leagues.
First, NISA is going to be a team owned league starting in either 2018 or 2019, based on what happens to the NASL. NISA's goal is to allow teams, where possible, to be owned in part by it's fans. This means if spurned fans of the Crew and local business owners teamed up, they could start their own community owned and operated team. Worried Mapfre is too big? Don't worry! There's a nice sized stadium in Obetz that I'm sure would be more than happy to have an anchor tenant.
Supposedly, there are 500,000 people 'signed up' to save the crew. If you could convince all of them to give $10 a year, you'd raise $5,000,000 towards the team. Even if you shrink the number of giving fans to, say, 10,000 at $50, it's still $500,000, enough for a decent stake. That's pretty, pun intended, massive.
Let's say local business owners aren't interested in this route and almost all the save the Crew momentum dies. There's still the option of amateur soccer in the NPSL or UPSL.
Going this route is even easier. 1,000 fans give $100 a year, that's $100,000 a year. That's enough to play in the NPSL or UPSL for years to come, with enough money to even go out and buy your own property and build a nice little stadium. And who wouldn't want to support a team like this, wherever you might be in the world?
Now, Hartford, Connecticut. For those who don't know, Hartford was recently saved from declaring bankruptcy thanks to the state. A few years ago, they were swindled out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by a crook attempting to renovate Dillon Stadium for a proposed NASL team.
There are now three groups attempting to renovate Dillon Stadium. One doesn't involve soccer, the other two do. Midfield Press wrote and excellent, detailed article on this that you can read by clicking here.
One group is attempting to bring the USL to Hartford, which the cities Executive Director seems to like because of the ties to MLS, in spite of the fact that this group has A, no fans and B, is requesting $10 Million in public money to match their own output of $7-$10 Million, $5 Million of which is going to cover the USL Expansion fee.
The other group is NPSL club Hartford City, who A, have fans and B, aren't requesting public money. They are looking to join NASL, which may or may not exist next year, which is an obvious downside, but are a much more prudent choice for a city that is literally out of money.
Yet it appears the great swindle that is American sports may be about to stranglehold Hartford, a city that can't afford what the team wants, while Columbus faces the facts that owners who aren't local don't care about keeping the team in your town if they think the grass is greener somewhere else, and neither does the league your team is in.
As if we needed another story proving that American soccer is in need of reform, the tale of Hartford and Columbus proves that things need to change. Business as usual is not good business, especially for fans and taxpayers.