Editorial (March 30, 2018) — In today’s social media-saturated age rife with circuitous and oftentimes cryptic communication, one must become an expert tea leaf reader to be able to translate much of it.
The world of sports is far from immune. It seems that all a prominent athlete needs to do nowadays is tweet the eyeball emoji at around the same time as an opposing team does something big and suddenly it’s a done deal he’s moving to that team. Or maybe another athlete posts a picture on Instagram with some strong-worded caption and suddenly he’s calling out a teammate.
There is a myriad of examples far from endemic to the above ones. And not surprisingly, given the well-documented background of the whole situation, the parties committed to uprooting Major League Soccer’s first chartered franchise from Columbus have provided us with plenty.
MLS Schedule Slight: Why Saturday’s Kickoff Time Is Just Another Jab at Columbus
Take Anthony Precourt. Since he announced his intentions to move the Crew, he’s taken multiple opportunities to twist the knife he’s used to stab the club’s supporters in the back ever so deeper. Recent examples include him releasing statements regarding the stadium situation in the projected new locale at times clearly meant to antagonize the existing fanbase. He did it during the annual party for season ticket holders as well as ahead of MAPFRE Stadium playing host to the USWNT’s inaugural match in the SheBelieves Cup.
Translation? Precourt clearly isn’t interested in parallel paths no matter how much he and Don Garber tout that as their plan of action. Columbus business leaders, who’ve stepped up to the plate with viable proposals to ensure the team stays put, have received the proverbial silent treatment. It’s left Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine no choice but to invoke the “Art Modell law” in filing a lawsuit against Precourt.
That’s far from the end of the indirect jabs at Columbus recently. Just look at the team’s schedule, specifically this weekend’s game against the Vancouver Whitecaps. The game kicks off at 3 PM ET. On its own, it would be hard to make an argument the league is doing its part to stick it to soccer fans in central Ohio. But then you hit the “guide” button on your cable remote and scroll to what FOX is showing at the same exact time on Saturday.
You guessed it. The inaugural L.A. Derby. Crew SC’s fellow MLS original the LA Galaxy are taking on expansion upstarts LAFC, who’ve incidentally taken the league by storm during the first month of the MLS season. The league is not only touting its next intercity rivalry to go along with New York Red Bulls–NYCFC. It’s also hoping to showcase one of its biggest signings of 2018 as Zlatan Ibrahimovic is expected to make his Galaxy debut.
The message seems pretty clear. Garber and company would much rather you watch that then tune into MLS Live (which is free for the time being, by the way) and catch Crew SC-Whitecaps. And lest we forget, those two clubs aren’t MLS also-rans by any stretch of the imagination. Both Columbus and Vancouver stand atop their respective conferences. Forwards Gyasi Zardes and Kei Kamara are in the midst of career revivals early on in 2018. It’s a matchup with all the makings of a 4-3 final score.
But aesthetically attractive soccer doesn’t fit into the narrative. Precourt and the higher-ups at MLS want you to believe Columbus is an irrelevant soccer market. To manipulate said narrative in their favor, the first three Crew home games have started or (in the case of Saturday) will start before 7 PM ET. To put that in perspective, the club has had just one such game that either wasn’t nationally televised or took place on Decision Day in the past three years.
Unfortunately, it’s working. Last week’s 6 PM kickoff against D.C. United drew the first sub-10,000 crowd for an MLS game since 2014. It’s not just the weird timing. Precourt’s abandonment of promoting the team locally has forced fans to essentially become unpaid marketing associates around the city. It’s hard to fault most of them for treating the idea of a conspiracy as more than mere theory.
In the end, those loyal supporters are in a hopelessly awkward situation no one should have to deal with. If they don’t buy tickets and attend the games, they play into Precourt’s rationale for moving the team. If they do, they line the pockets of an unscrupulous, two-faced gazillionaire who holds them all in contempt. Couple that with the league itself burying Saturday’s game beneath its nationally televised showpiece and it’s no wonder Crew fans feel like they’re getting crucified in the name of the almighty dollar.