Why The Columbus Crew Need To Die

columbus crew austin move major league soccer anthony precourt savethecrew trolls the tom gulley show


If you follow soccer, particularly Major League Soccer, you've seen this sad missive spammed on nearly every soccer-related article online.

It's the battle cry of Columbus Crew followers. They're upset that their investor/operator, Anthony Precourt, is planning to move the team to Austin, Texas for a variety of reasons. None the least of which are really terrible fan support, poor civic partnerships, and little to no governmental partnership.

And the truth of it is that the Columbus Crew need to die. For lots of reasons.

1. Nobody is showing up. In droves.
Now, unlike Crew "fans"--who seem to just have a hashtag, I have these pesky things called "facts."

The Columbus Crew finished 20th out of 22 teams in attendance this year. The Crew "fans" response is that it's the investor/operator's fault. They blame lack of marketing, lack of promotions (not enough Beer Nights for people to get their drunk on), and allude to mysterious plots to keep people from buying tickets.

But the reality is that people weren't showing up long before Anthony Precourt came along.

Between 2005 and 2011, the Crew didn't once average 17,000 fans. Only once did they crack 15,000. Twice they got less than 13,000. This is a team without any competition in the realm of major league sports for the majority of their season. And they've had over 20 years to get it right.

(The only competition being the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets, which are being equally non-supported by Columbus, finishing 27th out of 30 at just 14,665 in 2016.)

And here's a telling statistic. The Columbus Crew, in all-time attendance figures--average 2,000 LESS per game during the PLAYOFFS than they do during the very unimpressive regular season.

In 21 years, the Crew have averaged over 18,000 one time. Their first year, playing in a 100,000 seat stadium. They averaged around 14,000 four times. FOUR TIMES, they couldn't get 14,000 into the stadium--three of those times, UNDER 13,000. So, eight of their 21 years? Well under 15,000. Their all-time average is a paltry 15,450 a season.

For the playoffs? It gets even worse. Of their 13 playoff seasons, eight averaged under 13,000 per match. In 2014, BARELY 9,000 showed up for a playoff game. Their all-time average is 13,491. And Crew "fans" would have you believe there is crazy wild undeniable passion for this team. Believe that, and I've got a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

2. The bar has been raised in Major League Soccer. Columbus isn't even close.
Just this year, a first year franchise, Atlanta United averaged 48,000 per match. And got over 70,000 on several occasions when they opened their stadium's seating completely.

For those keeping score, that's over three times the average of the Columbus Crew. In Atlanta's first year.

Seattle, 43,000. Toronto, 27,000. Orlando, 25,000. NYCFC, 22,000. These are all teams that haven't had 20 years--in a small market with no competition--to get it right.

This year, the league average was 22,000. Columbus averaged 15,000. That's 7,000 less than the league average, for those keeping score at home.

A second division USL team down the road, FC Cincinnati, is averaging 21,000. The math is inescapable.

"Save our team! Even though we aren't showing up and never have!" Sure. We'll all get right on that.

3. Columbus isn't profitable. Not by a longshot.
According to Forbes, Columbus is the least valuable franchise in Major League Soccer.

And also, according to Forbes, they're losing $5 million a year.

Why? Well, the first thing would be the Hashtag Warriors who don't actually show up for games.

Other factors include little to no TV revenue. Lesser dollars than larger markets in ad and digital ad sales. And no participation by the local business community to make it that way due to the very obvious lack of fan support.

Crew "fans" claim they need a TV deal. They apparently don't realize that the NFL started a practice in 1973 of blacking out local broadcasts of games until a certain percentage of tickets were sold to the game. That's good business sense. Why hand out the game for free until the stadium is full?

And, as the numbers blatantly indicate, that stadium isn't going to be close to full. Columbus isn't a major market that can trade tickets for a TV contract that can bring huge numbers. Particularly when fan support just doesn't pass the smell test on the part of sponsors or broadcasters.

Merchandising? The Columbus Crew didn't have a jersey amongst the league's top 25 best-sellers this season. So that's not really happening, either.

The team can't generate revenue, and with the "Hashtags do more than buying tickets" attitude of their "fans"?

There's little to no chance anyone--Anthony Precourt or anyone else--is going to just hemorrhage money so "fans" who consider the convenience of NOT showing up to games as their birthright have a team in town.

"Save our team! Even though we won't even go through the motions by showing up and never have--in order to get local sponsors interested in upping their rate!" Funny how people aren't exactly tripping over themselves to help "fans" who won't show up to games, isn't it?

4. Trolls, trolls, trolls--and lots of 'em! That's Columbus Crew fans.
The hashtag. That's what they've got.

Now, a SMART group of fans would reach out to other people with an actual appeal. Rather than spamming every single article online with just a hashtag.

That, and further troll behavior directed at those who are tired of having their soccer comments section spammed--and respond accordingly with #KillTheCrew.

If an article was ABOUT the Columbus Crew? OK. We can all live with that, to some extent.

But an article about Minnesota United's first season? About the Sounders-Toronto MLS Cup final? About the struggles of a Houston Dynamo player? Dozens of articles having NOTHING to do with the Columbus Crew? It's tiresome troll behavior that turns more people off from their cause than gains followers.

In fact, the "fans" of the Crew loudly crow about their online petition to save the Crew. It has 16,500 signatures. Remember the part where the league average for attendance is 22,000? That's right. After months, they have less than a single MLS game, but think it's a groundswell of support.

#KillTheCrew is becoming more and more popular all the time. Nobody is going to help trolls who wouldn't help themselves.

Here's the response I got to facts and reality from a Crew "fan" named Jason Woolever who works with Holony Media. Instead of responding with counter arguments, or even insults about my appearance, logic, background, or knowledge--he fabricated a totally false posting and attributed it to me.

And, in true Crew "fan" form, he showed his class by going full-on sodomy.

Classy, huh? And this is just a drop in the bucket. The Crew fans want you to #SaveTheCrew, but they don't like facts about attendance, team value, or any other sort of unflattering reality.

And they respond like fourth grade trolls. Time after time after time.

"Save our team! We'll troll every article till you do! And when you mention that trolling and spamming isn't the best way to earn sympathy and followers? WE'LL MAKE UP TROLL STUFF!" Bright people, these Crew fans.

5. US soccer has no promotion/relegation. Columbus hasn't earned their MLS status.
Unlike nearly every league in the world, Major League Soccer has no system of demoting the worst-performing teams on the field, and promoting teams that finish at the top of the lower leagues.

Therefore, a Major League Soccer franchise is a golden ticket into the first division of American soccer.

Giving them away to cities and fans who won't support their team, or have no reasonable chance of ever being profitable just won't do in this day and age. Not with the Atlantas and Seattles and Orlandos of the world doing things the right way for viable clubs.

Losing money, a piteous trollish fan base that won't show up to games, and little chance of becoming profitable via business or government partnership isn't going to cut it with Cincinnati up the road averaging 21,000 a match. Sorry.

You don't get to stay forever for free. You've had over TWENTY YEARS, Columbus. Sorry.

6. The governor of Ohio himself said Columbus "hasn't created a spark" in 20 years.
This is self-explanatory and pretty much makes its own gravy.

7. Other markets deserve a shot after Columbus wasted one for decades.
Apparently, the people in Columbus don't remember the Tampa Bay Mutiny. Or the Miami Fusion.

There's precedent in Major League Soccer for underperforming franchises.

Cities are vying even now for precious and valuable expansion franchises in MLS. They're stepping up to the plate with agreements to build new, modern stadiums. They're coming to the table with civic and government partnerships.

Columbus? Nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Just "lose money and stay here." Oh, and the trolling.

8. HISTORICAL bad attendance. Not keeping up with MLS.
Here's how the Crew finished in attendance rankings for the last ten years. You've seen the actual numbers already. Here's how they're doing amongst their counterparts.

2007. 11th of 14 teams.
2008. 9th of 15.
2009. 9th of 15.
2010. 9th of 16.
2011. 17th of 18.
2012. 14th of 19.
2013. 12th of 19.
2014. 16th of 19.
2015. 16th of 20.
2016. 16th of 20.
2017. 20th of 22.

Tell me again how it's all Precourt's fault. (The 2008 figure is from an MLS Cup winning year. Under 15,000 per match. So, even when the Crew is winning, the stadium isn't full.)

9. The League loses nothing by losing Columbus.
The results are in. Nobody's clamoring to #SaveTheCrew. And why should they?

The Crew "fans" should long ago have saved themselves. Why should anyone get motivated to leap into action for a bunch of people who a) happily champion their right to troll anyone and anything under the sun, and b) who failed to support their team when they had the chance?

The answer is that there is no reason. MLS leaving Columbus is no great loss. No loss at all, in fact.

Sure, there was a time of great hope and optimism about a small market team taking hold--a la the Green Bay Packers--then being embraced by the city universally and creating a groundswell of support.

It didn't happen. It's been two decades. So, #SaveYourBreath. The Columbus Crew need to die.

And Austin needs to start buying tickets.

Tom Gulley (recipient of the David Letterman Scholarship) is an award-winning writer, broadcaster, and journalist who regularly creates brilliant communications for some of the world's biggest companies. Especially the ones you admire. He's available for writing, creative strategy, digital communications, talk show hosting, voice talent work, and free 24-hour Martinizing.

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