COLUMBUS, Ohio — Across the large swath of the parking lot of Mapfre Stadium before the first Columbus Crew home game of the season on March 10, I could see it clearly: Fans duct-taped owner Anthony Precourt to the side of a red four-door pickup truck.
Precourt, whose father Jay made his fortune in oil and bequeathed a portion of it to his son, is public enemy number one in Columbus. His LLC Precourt Sports Ventures purchased the Crew in 2013, assumed operating rights, and pledged to keep the team in Columbus. “It’s important to the Hunt family and Major League Soccer that the Crew remains in Columbus,” Precourt said at the time. “We’re very committed to that. This city feels right.”
Unbeknownst to everyone except a privileged few, the purchase agreement included a clause that expressly permitted Precourt to move the team to Austin, Texas. In late 2017, Precourt announced that he would activate the clause unless he received taxpayer money to build a new stadium in downtown Columbus. The city refused to give in to Precourt’s demands, and now Precourt is conspicuously assessing potential stadium sites in Austin.
As a result, supporter-driven movements formed to keep the team in the capital city. The State of Ohio threatened to file suit against Precourt, and all offseason, Precourt has been persona non grata. He’d inspire a lot of vituperation from his club’s fans if he showed up, anyway.
“It would be hard not to shout in his face if I saw him, and a lot of people feel the same way,” said Connor, who along with his father has been a season ticket holder for many years.
A fan named Amjad summed up the feelings of the fanbase about a potential move. “If the team moved, for the first year it would anger, and after that it would be depression.”
One fan believed that a move to Austin for the team wouldn’t be too detrimental to the city’s morale, but didn’t want it to leave. “Soccer isn’t that popular here, unfortunately. Well, it is now,” said Brandy, who was accompanied by her son Jacob. “I’ve lived here my whole life, and I played soccer my whole life, and it’s not as popular as Ohio State football. But towards the end of last season, [soccer] got really popular here. Columbus needs this.”
Standing a quarter of a mile away in an empty parking space, I witnessed a crowd that had circled around Precourt. Their chant cut through the crisp air: “C-R-E-W, fuck you Precourt, we are the Crew!”
The chant served as a rallying cry. Others in the parking lot instinctively walked toward the horde and its captive. “What would you say to Precourt if you get to speak to him?” I asked.
“Why are you taking Daddy’s money to oil country?” one fan replied.
“Eat a dick,” answered another.
We passed cars with bumper stickers and signs emblazoned with Precourt’s name. One car had a “Save the Crew, Relocate Precourt” bumper sticker. “Hey Tony Precum… Lamar Hunt has a statue,” read one sign. “You have a trust fund from your daddy.”
A fan named Pete felt guilty that he brought his young son to the game. “I’m angry, I’m sad,” he said. “I don’t even know if I want to be here today. I don’t know know if I want to go through a full year of trying to talk to my 4-year-old about if the team is gonna be here. It’s tough.”
“I have a 10-year-old and 3-year-old, and we were looking forward to bringing generations of fans to games,” said another father named Bryan.
“Apparently, building a generation of fans isn’t good enough for Precourt,” Pete replied.
The frenzied crowd surrounded Precourt. A fan violently opened the rear door of the four-door pickup to which Precourt was taped. His face collapsed inward. The skin ripped between his eyes down the center of the face. The duct tape crackled as it tore from the paint of the truck, and the poster board with Precourt’s image flapped lazily in the wind.