And away we go: Three months after hinting he’d sue to block Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt from relocating his team to Austin, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has joined with the city of Columbus to do just that, under the “Art Modell Law” passed after the Cleveland Browns owner decamped for Baltimore that requires sports owners to offer their teams up for sale to local investors before moving them out of state:
DeWine argues that the Crew accepted $5 million in state taxpayer-funded improvements to their parking lot, tax exemptions for MAPFRE Stadium, a “well below market rate lease” on state-owned land, and other reimbursements.
According to the lawsuit, a 1996 statute in the Ohio Revised Code “prohibits these owners from moving their teams elsewhere unless they give at least six months advance notice of the intention to move and give the city, an individual, or group of individuals, who live in the area an opportunity to purchase the teams.”
All of the above is true: The Crew did get state subsidies for their stadium, and the Modell law does prohibit that! As I noted when DeWine first brought this up, though, there are still two big issues:
- The Modell law just says local buyers have to be given “the opportunity to purchase the team,” not that the seller has to agree to a fair market price or anything. Which, sure, I guess a clever lawyer can argue that “You may buy my team for 200 squillion dollars” isn’t really an “opportunity,” but that’s a lot less cut and dried than one might like.
- The statute doesn’t include a penalty clause, so it’s unclear what the state could do if Precourt thumbed his nose at the court and moved to Austin anyway.
A way more interesting case might be if Columbus tried to use eminent domain laws to condemn the Crew franchise and seize it as a public good that’s being endangered — eminent domain has been successfully used for dumber reasons than that, and while eminent domain seizure attempts failed in the Baltimore Colts and Oakland Raiders cases, there’s reason to believe that those instances didn’t set a firm legal precedent. (In the case of the Colts, it was ruled they’d already left town hours before the suit was filed, so there was nothing left to seize control of.) Since no one seems interested in that option, though, the Modell law is an interesting Plan B — even if there are a lot of steps between this and actually forcing the Crew to remain in town, if there’s even a chance that it makes relocation problematic enough that Precourt decides to stay, any statute in a storm, right?