The State Of Ohio Is Stepping In On Columbus Crew Relocation Thanks To This Somewhat Forgotten Law

Updated March 5, 2018: Mike DeWine has gone ahead with what is discussed below, and filed suit against Precourt Sports Ventures and Major League Soccer, saying … “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.”

Ohio has been through all of this before. In 1995, owner Art Modell decided to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. What people may have forgotten is that a legal battle ensued, and legislation was passed to ensure this didn’t happen again.

Cleveland sued Modell in City of Cleveland v. Cleveland Browns, et al. to force the team to play in Cleveland through the end of their lease in 1998. The resulting “expansion” team granted to the city in 1999, with full franchise history, was a result of the legal pressure applied to Modell and the NFL.

But more importantly, for our purposes, was a law passed shortly thereafter by the Ohio General Assembly known as the “Modell Law” that reads:

No owner of a professional sports team that uses a tax-supported facility for most of its home games and receives financial assistance from the state or a political subdivision thereof shall cease playing most of its home games at the facility and begin playing most of its home games elsewhere unless the owner either:

(A) Enters into an agreement with the political subdivision permitting the team to play most of its home games elsewhere;

(B) Gives the political subdivision in which the facility is located not less than six months’ advance notice of the owner’s intention to cease playing most of its home games at the facility and, during the six months after such notice, gives the political subdivision or any individual or group of individuals who reside in the area the opportunity to purchase the team.

There has been debate on whether this applies to the Crew, or if state or local officials would use it to take legal action.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s statement on December 7, 2017:

“Ohioans are very loyal fans who passionately support our teams and take great civic pride in their accomplishments. Our teams are a part of our communities. That is why when ownership moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1995, the Ohio General Assembly took action and passed a law to protect Ohio and its communities when they provide tax-funded support for professional teams’ stadiums. As a United States Senator, I, along with Senator John Glenn and Congressman Louis Stokes, introduced similar legislation in Congress.

“The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has reviewed the law passed after the Browns’ move. We believe the evidence will show that this law would apply to the Columbus Crew and Mapfre Stadium. As Attorney General, should ownership of the Columbus Crew initiate a move of the team without complying with Ohio law, I am prepared to take the necessary legal action under this law to protect the interests of the State of Ohio and the central Ohio communities which have all invested to make the Columbus Crew a proud part of our Ohio sports tradition and help Mapfre Stadium earn its reputation as ‘Fortress Columbus.’”

Here’s why the law applies to the Crew:

  • The team plays in MAPFRE Stadium, which sits on state owned land.
  • The team receives 75% of parking revenues from state owned lots.
  • The state recently spent $5 million for parking lot upgrades.

A lawsuit may ultimately amount to nothing. Here’s why:

This law doesn’t mean a team owner can’t leave.

It just means they have to give six months notice (Precourt has done this) and must provide opportunity for the team to be purchased by individuals or companies in the local area.

This is a murky area given there is nothing in the law about price (who would determine the market rate of the Crew?) or process.

But given that Precourt doesn’t seem serious about giving Columbus an opportunity to keep the Crew, this may be the best opportunity to put pressure on Precourt and the MLS.

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