By W. Wilson
Last week, Austin city council gave the green light to Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV) owner Anthony Precourt to start financing the estimated $200 million dollar stadium he needs to move the Columbus Crew, a major league soccer team based out of Columbus, Ohio, to Austin.
The deal has already hit its first snag; PSV finds itself between the city and the county over the stadium’s projected revenue. Each seems to have different opinions on how property taxes and the proposed “tax exempt status” of the stadium should be leveraged.
Tax exempt status is being packaged as a benefit for a rich sports franchise owner at a time when property taxes have skyrocketed for pretty much everyone else who lives here. In fact, Austin has some of the fastest growing property tax rates in the US according to some sources.
While the exact ranking might be the subject of some debate, the effects on working class folks are quite real. For long time home owners and renters that aren’t rich as all Hell, there’s no reprieve in sight. But if you’re a millionaire sports franchiser from California or a landlord who can pass the higher taxes off on your renters, the worst you have to worry about is who to sign the check for.
Alongside the tax fight, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein expressed a mutual desire to challenge the legality of the move early on in the proposal stages. With the news of the city council vote here in Austin, both have expressed a continued interest in taking PSV to court in order to keep the team.
While it is unclear at the moment which way a ruling would go, the 10th District Court of Appeals seemed willing to at least hear the case out when it rejected PSV’s appeal to throw out the case back in June.
In light of this expensive, potentially tax-exempt deal that the working people of Austin will likely have to shoulder, it’s probably a good time to ask ourselves; just who, exactly, is this move good for?
Clearly, it’s not any good for Columbus’ existing, passionate fan base. When PSV first announced its intentions to negotiate a deal with the city of Austin, Columbus Crew fans immediately began organizing under the #SaveTheCrew moniker. And the hard work they put in is hard to ignore.
Whether it’s designing a new stadium to replace the aging Mapfre stadium in Columbus for free or if it’s staging protests outside of city hall, the movement has been tireless in their efforts to keep the team. The intensity should come as no surprise to those who know the history of the Crew. It was the work of the fans and their 11,500 season ticket deposits that made Columbus Ohio the home city of one of the founding 10 Major League Soccer teams in 1994.
It’s pretty hard to claim this move is good for the city of Austin as a whole either. Granted, PSV and the city have gone to great lengths to prove what an “economic benefit” the stadium will be. But we’ve been down this road with Circuit of the Americas once before, with projections about economic benefit that promise everything under the sun and deliver on practically none of it.
The difference is, this time it hits a little closer to home. Without help from the state, more of the cost is fronted by the city, where gentrification continues to devastate the city at such an alarming rate that even elected officials have to admit to the loss of whole communities. Not that Adler’s recognition of gentrification has stopped him from voicing his support for this move. But I guess it’s easy to forget when you don’t live our problems.
It’s also kind of hard to view this as a positive for soccer fans in general. On the face of it, we are getting a local team to replace the now quite dead and buried Austin Aztex. But considering the shady circumstances surrounding the deal, and the very real “stadium extortion” business that professional sports team owners love to impose on the working class, it’s hard to see this team as anything other than an exploitative cash grab before the owner sells out and leaves. After all, what he’s doing to Columbus he can just as easily do to us.
This anti-people mentality is at the heart of modern sports franchises. It is a mentality that says players have no right to kneel during their national anthem while police can kill people with impunity. A mentality that says sports fans are tools that can be used and discarded by city governments and sports team owners, and the working class folks who end up footing the bill are nothing more than collateral damage. A mentality that puts profits before passion, and won’t think twice about pricing working class folks out of the stands to accommodate Austin gentrifiers. Fortunately, this mentality has been fought, and is being fought, by fans and players alike.
So how should fans of soccer respond to the news? It’s not yet too late to organize against the move and confront the owners and city council about its rabidly anti-people, anti-worker policies and it’s commitment to making the rich richer. And if the move isn’t stopped? We can let it whither and die. There are tons of other authentic supporter’s groups for soccer teams, whether it’s the Hotspurs fans at Mr. Tramps, Libres Y Lokos’ Austin chapter, Ritual Del Kaoz, or others. There’s recreational leagues and fan clubs of all stripes to look into.
But the most important thing to keep in mind is this; what has set soccer apart from every other sport in the world is the community and unbridled passion of the fans. It is a unique cultural institution where what happens in the stands is just as important as what happens on the pitch. And that sense of community, that passion, and that heart is not something that can be bought, sold, or traded.
That sense of unity cannot be built on the devastated ruins of working class communities that have been shattered to make a profit. It is not passion that can be sustained by well-off hipster dads and post-ironic tech bros.
More than any other sport, the community aspect of soccer belongs firmly in the hands of the working class. And for that reason, Austin FC is ultimately doomed to die the same long, drawn out death of its neighbors in Houston and Dallas.