#SaveTheCrew: A True American Cinderella Story

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Editorial (October 26, 2018) — If the movement that looks to have kept MLS in Columbus ever gets the Hollywood treatment, get Angelo Pizzo to write the screenplay.

Pizzo is perhaps best-known for his work on the film “Hoosiers,” the story of a high school basketball team from a rural town in Indiana that ultimately goes on to win the state championship. Ask most sports fans who double as amateur film critics and you’re likely to get a favorable response about the movie.

The experts concur. “Hoosiers” rates as the 13th most inspirational movie of all-time on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Cheers list. That ranking puts it ahead of a plethora of highly well-known Hollywood films, both related to sports and unrelated. They include Field of Dreams, Forrest Gump, Gandhi, and Braveheart among many others.

#SaveTheCrew: An Inspiring, Grassroots Success Story

The underdog archetype certainly pervades American cinema. It’s a function of our love for sports and propensity for latching onto stories within those sports that embody defying the odds to realize success. And make no mistake about it. The movement to rebuff Anthony Precourt and his ambitions associated with depriving Columbus, OH of its beloved MLS club falls into this category.

The Battle Begins

It all began less than a week after Precourt held a press conference and said, among other things, that people needed to “recognize the ambition.” The following Sunday, thousands of Crew fans gathered in front of Columbus City Hall to let him and the rest of the world know that this was the beginning of a protracted fight to thwart his machinations. The overwhelming majority of supporters of other MLS clubs had their backs.

His disdain for and condescension towards supporters of MLS’ first chartered club took on rather reprehensible form during the MLS Cup playoffs last year. He staffed a (pardon the pun) skeleton crew of security workers for the first leg of the Eastern Conference final against Toronto FC. That subsequently created near-bottleneck conditions to get into the stadium which unnecessarily put fans’ safety at risk. All this to try and project his “lack of fan support” narrative to a national television audience.

Once the season ended on the field, though, the battle off of it for the club’s supporters began in earnest. Even so, the odds seemed stacked in Precourt’s favor. He had tremendous backing from MLS commissioner Don Garber who, when pressed on the matter during MLS Cup media day in Toronto, regularly flaunted the Crew’s “business metrics” which weren’t to the league’s liking. What he conveniently decided to ignore was the nefarious manner in which Precourt engineered those metrics during his ownership of the club.

Journalistic Yeoman’s Work

It precipitated a concerted effort from a group of people who proved indispensable throughout this whole process: the writers and journalists who cover the club. In today’s oversaturated content market, it’s an oftentimes thankless job that pays little. But to say that writers such as Andrew Erickson of the Columbus Dispatch, Andrew King of The Athletic, everyone at the Crew’s SB Nation blog Massive Report and many others hit it out of the park with their coverage over the past year is an understatement.

One of the hardest hitting bits of investigatory journalism definitely bears mentioning. In January, Tim Myers published an extensive report laying bare the inaccuracies and outright obfuscation of facts by Precourt as a means to justify his reasoning for wanting to move the Crew to Austin, TX. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from it was to think to yourself how successful this club could be locally with someone who didn’t have one foot out the door for the entirety of their tenure as investor/operator. Because the facts as they exist clearly paint Precourt in such a light.

The Local Ownership This Club Needed Finally Materializes

Untapped potential is a term that describes this club in the absence of ownership who’s all in on Columbus. Crew SC essentially has never had such an owner given that the Hunt family owned them before Precourt. And though Lamar Hunt deserves much admiration as a founding father of the league and how instrumental he was in keeping MLS afloat in the early 2000s, after his passing his son Clark maintained a somewhat long-distance approach in his running of the team before selling to Precourt. If only such a scenario materialized whereby which Precourt got his wish to bring MLS to Austin while local ownership ensured the Crew stayed put.

Fans finally have that in Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and a Columbus-based investor group that includes Pete Edwards, Jr. The developments, which began emerging on October 12, led to well-deserved celebrations from supporters who’ve arguably dealt more adversity than any other group of fans in American sports over the past year. The wild scenes at Endeavor Brewing Company, one of many Crew supporter bars throughout the city, were exciting and heartening to see.

An Upset for the Ages

Let it be abundantly clear. This is something that wasn’t supposed to happen. Big-pocketed businessmen almost always invariably get their way. And yes, even though MLS is staying in Columbus, Precourt is still certainly getting his. But the end game that Crew supporters wanted and worked tirelessly to achieve was one that many thought impossible. It was one that the social media trolls who revel in the misfortune of others hoped was impossible. But nearly a year to the day that the wolf in sheep’s clothing unmasked himself, one of the saddest stories in American soccer history concluded with a fairytale ending.

Ultimately, #SaveTheCrew will go down as one of the greatest movements to prevent the relocation of a team in American sports history. In sporting terminology, it certainly goes down as an upset. And if you’re familiar with the ending to “Hoosiers,” it’s pretty cool that a guy named Jimmy played a part in the proverbial “winning shot.”

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