MLS franchise Columbus Crew acquired by Precourt

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Associated Press

Posted on July 31, 2013 at 7:02 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 31 at 7:04 PM

The original ownership group of the Columbus Crew wasn't looking to sell. Instead, Hunt Sports Group was seeking a local investor to purchase a minority share in the MLS franchise.

Once businessman Anthony Precourt began to learn more about the club, though, it was only a matter of time before he could convince Hunt Sports Group to sell the entire franchise.

The deal was announced on Tuesday, the day before the league's annual All-Star game. Precourt Sports Ventures LLC will take over operating rights to the franchise from the company run by Clark Hunt, whose late father Lamar Hunt helped prop up the league nearly 20 years ago.

The Crew, which won the MLS Cup in 2008, was one of the charter members of the league.

"We have long believed in the ascension of soccer in the American sports-entertainment world," Precourt said in a statement. "We thank the Hunt family for having the trust in us to become the Crew's new steward. The Hunt family has done so much for MLS, and the development of the game in Ohio, and for that we thank them."

Hunt, whose family also owns the Kansas City Chiefs, called it a "bittersweet" day for his family and company. But he also made it clear that Hunt Sports Group will remain active in MLS through its ownership of FC Dallas.

"Anthony is a bright, passionate, driven leader, and we believe he will be a great fit for Columbus," Hunt said. "We are delighted to welcome him as a partner in MLS, and I am confident that he will do an outstanding job with the Crew."

During the early days of Major League Soccer, every team was owned by just a few different groups. But over the years, those teams have slowly taken on local ownership — Hunt Sports Group sold the franchise in Kansas City in 2006 — in an attempt to diversify and stabilize the league.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber said following the dedication of futsal courts in Kansas City, Kan., on Tuesday that the sale of the represented a "great development" for the league.

"It's been a long time from our days when we had three owners," Garber said, "and now we're soon to have 20 teams and with the exception of the 50 percent ownership that Phil Anschutz has in Houston, we have one team and one owner, and that's been a goal of this league since 2002."

The Crew, the only MLS club in Ohio, has experienced plenty of success since its founding. Along with capturing its first MLS Cup five years ago, it also won the U.S. Open Cup in 2002 and the Supporters' Shield for the league's best regular-season record on three occasions.

The club was also groundbreaking in that it opened the first stadium built specifically for an MLS team in 1999. The facility has been used by the U.S. national team for several international competitions, and has served as a blueprint for other soccer-specific stadiums across the league.

Garber said that Precourt, whose Precourt Capital Management provides investment management services and private equity investing in the energy sector, began to express interest in expanding into the sports and entertainment realm more than a year ago.

Precourt was drawn to MLS, and began discussions with Hunt on purchasing part of the Columbus franchise. Over time, Garber said, Precourt became more enamored of the league.

"We weren't pressuring them to sell the team," Garber said, "but as discussions proceeded and Anthony got more involved in MLS and did his due diligence, he said, 'Hey, I want to own all this team,' and he was able to convince the Hunt family to sell him 100 percent interest in the club."

Hunt Sports Group was advised by Inner Circle Sports in the sale.

"There is no Major League Soccer without Lamar Hunt. There's maybe not the sports industry we have today without Lamar Hunt, and Clark Hunt is an apple that hasn't fallen far from the tree," Garber said. "Now he'll focus his attention to Dallas, where we're making a lot of progress on and off the field, and it's a great market that I think with their undivided attention will be even better than it is today."

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