Monday, September 29, 2008

MLS To Vegas Through Columbus?

Ives Galarcep is reporting that the Las Vegas Sports & Entertainment Group are looking into purchasing an unknown amount of the Columbus Crew (much like Oscar de la Hoya has done with the Houston Dynamo). LVSEG wouldn't run the team, they would just own a percentage of the team. Why might this be important? Well, despite large attendance figures during their early years, Columbus has struggled in recent years with getting people to come out to the games. This wouldn't be that bad for Columbus (certainly there are quite a few teams with poor attendance figures), but Forbes recently found Columbus to be 2nd to last in terms of overall team value, and tied for last in terms of revenue (they lost $4.5 million last year). This, despite the fact that they were the first team to get their own soccer specific stadium and have been around since the league's inception.
What does all of this mean? Maybe nothing. LVSEG's spokesman, Paul Caligiuri, has stated that there are no plans to move the Crew out of Columbus, but it does raise questions as to what exactly the investment group that is planning to bring MLS to Vegas is trying to accomplish with this move. The fact is, there are some risks and concerns that many have regarding how well a professional soccer team (that plays outside during the summer) could do in a town with no real professional sports history. LVSEG has addressed one of these concerns with a plan that includes a $500M hotel/casino with a stadium alongside (complete with retractable roof and AC). The other concern (will the people come out to support this team?) is much harder to address and overcome; we won't know until it happens. Given the stability and success of Montreal, Vancouver, and Portland's USL teams, it would seem to make more sense to expand into any one of those markets. Add in the NY Mets' bid on a 2nd (and real--RBNY plays in Jersey) NY team, talks of Barcelona making a bid for a team in Miami again, and the soccer history of a town like St. Louis, Vegas is up against some tough competition.
LVSEG says that this move does not mean they won't be pursuing MLS in Vegas. So what are they doing? The signs are pointing toward what is called, "a safety net." Let's assume that things go well for LVSEG and they are awarded the Vegas team. Sweet! Now they own a Vegas team and have own a large share in another team. They have options to sell it or whatever. No real harm done (other than it being a gamble with a large sum of money, but that is not something this ownership groups seems to be lacking in). If they are not granted the team, then at least they still have a team. Sure it's not in Vegas, but it is an MLS team and so they still win. If things don't start looking up for Columbus (attendance/revenue wise) then they are in a good position to consider moving the team out to Sin City. Thus far it seems like a wise safety net that they are setting up for themselves. It may not be real cause for alarm for Columbus fans, yet... but if it were my team that was in this situation, I'd do everything I could to make sure that attendance and revenues increase over the next year or two. Perhaps the success of Columbus this season will help bring some of those fair-weather fans back.

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