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MLS- Expansion

Vegas investment group eyeing piece of Columbus Crew

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Las Vegas and Columbus. You’re probably thinking there couldn’t be two more different American cities. They actually have a few things in common. While they both have plenty of party-happy college students and both love college football (though in Vegas, the folks love betting on it more than actually watching it), Vegas and Columbus could soon have their own soccer tie.

The investment group that has expressed interest in buying an expansion MLS franchise and placing it in Las Vegas is in talks with the Columbus Crew about buying a piece of the Crew, Tripp Mickle at the Sports Business Journal reported on Monday.

“It’s pretty close to being in the final stages,” said Paul Caligiuri (yes, that Paul Caligiuri), the group’s spokesman.

While Caligiuri wouldn’t say what percentage of the Crew the investment group was buying, the news of a sale of a piece of the Crew still has to raise worried eyebrows among Columbus fans.

Before Crew fans head toward team heardquarters with pitchforks and torches, they should wait until more is learned about this potential deal. Caliguiri does go on to state that the sale will have no impact on the group’s pursuit of an expansion team for Las Vegas.

Crew fans should hope not.

While we don’t know exactly what this group, led by California businessman Mark Noorzai, is up to it has to be at least a little unsettling that the group’s spokesman is Caligiuri, who is the same player who sued MLS so he could play for the Los Angeles Galaxy instead of the Columbus Crew, which he played for during the league’s inaugural 1996 season.

What do you think of this development? Are you a worried Crew fan? Are you an MLS fan who likes the idea of an expansion team moving to Las Vegas? Would you have a problem with someone moving the Columbus Crew to Las Vegas?

Share your thoughts below.

82 comments
  • Brant

    @ Fumar:

    “But the league has now realized that soccer fans are NOT general american sports fans and revised their strategy to tap into existing soccer fanbases.”

    Then explain why Rochester, Milwaukee, and St Louis don’t have teams, but Salt Lake does.

    Look folks – anyone who knows anything about the Vegas economy knows that pro sports are dead in the water out there. Forget the gambling issue. When are games played?

    afternoon (hot as hell there, even indoors)

    early evening (not as hot)

    BUT, that population boom is there to support, what? The tourism/service industry. And when are those people busiest? When the tourists are eating dinner and gambling. And when does that happen? Same time the team is playing.

    Sure the casinos will buy a bunch of tickets and skyboxes and give ’em away to their “whales”, but that doesn’t build you fan base. The people you need to build your fan base can’t attend your games because they have to work when you’re playing, unless you want 9am kickoffs.

    There’s a really good reason no other league has planted their flags in Las Vegas, other than the spectacle-obsessed XFL. It’s too hard to sustain a fan base there.

    And if attendance is the only barometer, then someone needs to explain Chivas to me.

    Like

  • KingSnake

    Btw, speaking of “stability”, this is the same league that five years ago assassinated — err, “contracted” — Miami and Tampa Bay, and just 2.5 years ago “moved” San Jose to Houston …

    Like

  • Don

    Anyone heard of the National Football League’s Canton Bulldogs. NFL Champs and in the dustbin of history. Canton did end up with the Football Hall of Fame. Welcome to PROFESSIONAL Sports. The history of all pro leagues including the greatest are littered with bodies. Grow, change or die.

    Like

  • bc6

    I want the source or atleast link to where people are getting information on whether or not the Columbus Crew is profitable. I hope its not Forbes because that is mere educated speculation…. furthermore it doesn’t take into consideration the Stadiums income from concerts or other events held their. The Stadium coupled with the team are a profitable fit. Please provide links to facts that state otherwise. Or just shut up you ignorant fools.

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  • undrafted

    Crew fans are right to be concerned.

    A bit of a wild theory I have is that this is leverage to get a Vegas expansion franchise. Right now the Crew are valued by Forbes a good bit under the $40-50 million an expansion franchise would cost. MLS is pretty close to the long-standing obvious goal of 1 team/investor (but for 1/2 of Houston and the Crew). MLS has a need for HSG to start divesting from the Crew and I’m guessing few have sent HSG bids. The Vegas group might not be ready enough to win a bid for expansion right now. In 5 years, the league won’t be so eager to expand and franchise values might be much higher. So by buying in now, they’ll somehow get an in towards landing a team some years from now.

    Relocation is obvious, of course. They might need to pull a Montreal Expos and start killing off the market first before MLS would go along. Crew stadium isn’t quite up to SSS standards nowadays and in a few years will be over 10 years old. I can’t quite believe MLS (and HSG or the future owner) would just leave the building standing, but it’s not like there’s some side development like in other markets.

    I’ve bought that Crew financials aren’t still quite over the disaster of Andrulis-ball but with a top team, things should start recovering more soon or the path to profitability looks muddled.

    I’ve sat through 1+ year of Crew games in person and think we’re far from giving up on the market. Hopefully Crew fans can figure out who everyone is behind this bid and get a clearer idea of the intentions behind it.

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  • undrafted

    Crew fans are right to be concerned.

    A bit of a wild theory I have is that this is leverage to get a Vegas expansion franchise. Right now the Crew are valued by Forbes a good bit under the $40-50 million an expansion franchise would cost. MLS is pretty close to the long-standing obvious goal of 1 team/investor (but for 1/2 of Houston and the Crew). MLS has a need for HSG to start divesting from the Crew and I’m guessing few have sent HSG bids. The Vegas group might not be ready enough to win a bid for expansion right now. In 5 years, the league won’t be so eager to expand and franchise values might be much higher. So by buying in now, they’ll somehow get an “in” towards landing a team some years from now.

    Relocation is an obvious concern, of course. They might need to pull a Montreal Expos and start killing off the market first before MLS would go along but once 20 or so teams are all in SSS, who knows what the league might agree to. Crew stadium isn’t quite up to SSS standards nowadays and in a few years will be over 10 years old. I can’t quite believe MLS (and HSG or the future owner) would just leave the building standing, but it’s not like there’s some side development like in other markets.

    I’ve bought that Crew financials still aren’t quite over the disaster of Andrulis-ball but with a top team, things should start recovering more soon or the path to profitability looks muddled.

    I’ve sat through 1+ year of Crew games in person and think we’re far from giving up on the market. Hopefully Crew fans can figure out who everyone is behind this bid and get a clearer idea of the intentions behind it. It’s too typical a story to not be concerned.

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  • DME

    Columbus does a terrible job marketing itself to the greater region. Cleveland and Cincinnati are only about a 2 hour drive from Columbus. Pittsburgh and Indianapolis are about 3 hours. And these are easy all-highway drives. Those four metro areas combine for about 8 million people, but (as a resident) you see no Crew advertisement in the areas. The OH/PA/MI/IN/KY area contains a LOT more people than is commonly thought, but you have to market to them if you’re Columbus management.

    If the Crew are failing and have to move, it’s a failure of the management, not of the market. Is Columbus a perfect market? No. Is Columbus even the best market in that area? Probably not. But the Great Lakes Region is a huge market with a fair amount of soccer fans and you can reach a lot more people cheaply than you would initially think. It would be short-sighted for MLS to abandon that market.

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  • Peter

    Relocation ????? I think for the leagues sake they need to keep the Crew in Ohio. Their team was awful in the last few season’s and now they may win the S.S. They’re talking about relocation. Come on the only team that needs to move is Chivas send them to San Deigo. If we were going to relocate poor att.then NY,KC,CHIVAS,RAPIDS,SJ,REVS,DALLAS

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  • AndyinSeattle

    COLUMBUS CREW DOES NOT OWN ITS STADIUM THEREFORE WAS NOT FIGURED IN THE FORBES ARTICLE.

    If Las Vegas gets a team, they’ll have to rely on bringing rich foreign money to the games (and suites). How to do this? Bring in old, retiring foreign stars, of course. All tourists will see is a Galaxy knock-off, and the continuation of the MLS being thought of as a gimmick will continue.

    If you want to bring the team legitimacy, keep the Crew where they are. Again, look at the Packers, they’ve done more for the NFL than the Falcons.

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  • huricano

    Has anyone, including Ives, speculated on why this group has bought into the Crew? What would the upside be for them?

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  • WeatherManNX01

    “Are you an MLS fan who likes the idea of an expansion team moving to Las Vegas?”

    No, I’m an MLS fan who _hates_ the idea of an expansion team in Vegas. I’m sorry, but the city has yet to prove to me that it can support professional sports. Yeah, we’ve seen various games like the NBA All-Star game and the ArenaBowl there…but for those games, you will get a lot of people to travel to that location, and that they are special events makes it hard to determine how the locals feel.

    A pro sports team has already failed in Vegas. I don’t want an MLS team to be the next one.

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  • ShaUn

    I’ve attended 8 games this season and I live 4 hours away. I know for a fact that I’m not the only fan who makes a long drive just to see OUR CREW play. I can tell you that for each game I went to this season, the stadium was at least 70-75% full (except for the Chivas game in early April but it was raining the whole time, so that’s completely understandable). If the team were to relocate, MLS would lose a lot of dedicated and loyal fans from not just my area but also the state of Ohio. It would be a shame. Plus, this is not what the CREW needs right now as they are trying to remain focused as the playoffs are only a month away. GO CREW!!!

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  • elopingcamel

    Re:

    A pro sports team has already failed in Vegas. I don’t want an MLS team to be the next one.

    Posted by: WeatherManNX01

    I’d be very interested to know which pro team you are referring to. If it was the old Las Vegas Quicksilvers from the NASL days, well you can hardly say that a failure here was any different than the failures across the board of that league. I know that the Utah Jazz played like 10 games here in Vegas in ’82 or ’83, but I don’t know if that really counts as a Vegas pro team (not to mention that much of the population boom in the area occurred after 1983).

    Vegas has had a few attempts at random minor league and tiny niche-sport teams, with the most notable perhaps being the AAA baseball team the Area 51s (formerly Stars). They have gone through a few ownership groups over the years and have rarely had much success on the field, but they have generally been well received and supported by us locals. I hate baseball, but have gone a number of times just for the fun of it.

    With the exception of three years (between ’02-’04), I have lived in Vegas all my life and to tell you the truth, most of these minor and niche-sport league teams that pop up and die out do so without us locals ever even hearing about them. For example, I didn’t learn that Vegas had an NPSL team until a year and a half after they had folded (due to a lack of a viable investment group). If you are referring to any of these minor league or niche-sport league teams then the best I can say is that niche-sports rarely do well in any market, and are almost guaranteed to fail when they aren’t advertised, marketed, or promoted.

    What you have with LVSEG and MLS is an actual pro sports league with national televised coverage (at least on ESPN2 and Gala) and an ownership group committed to succeeding. I repeat, I’d love to hear whatever great example you have of a pro sports team failing in Vegas and not “proving to you” that Vegas can succeed. Arena football and the XFL are lame examples of sports worth supporting.

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  • Ron

    The Crew have failed in Columbus. To the guy defending Crew’s attendance numbers, sorry but you have zero credibility. On DK Most Crew home games have been played in front of vast acres of empty yellow bleachers. It’s just embarassing. It’s too bad, too, because the Crew are good this year, and Schelotto is flat-out dazzling at times. Despite the quality of the team, no one goes to the games.

    The Crew probably ought to be relocated, cuz it sure ain’t workin’ in Columbus. But Las Vegas, even with a retractable-roof, air conditioned stadium, won’t be any better. Columbus may be a one-team town dominated by Ohio State, but Las Vegas is a one-trick pony dominated by gambling.

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  • Steve

    Ron,

    Again, if you want to relocate all teams with bad attendance start looking for places for NY, NE, Chivas, KC and others as well as Columbus.

    This bullcrap that Columbus is succeeding so they “have” to have great attendance is a joke because teams with more recent greater success are having troubles with attendance as well and no one comes on here kicking and screaming about them moving like they do Columbus.

    Just because you are in NY, LA, or NE doesn’t mean you are a better community for soccer because you are bigger and have more people. So, if those numbers are down what makes it so they should stay an MLS city and Columbus shouldn’t?

    Market size has nothing to do with it, but history shows that if the team is doing well and proves to be run correctly Columbus is a very good market for soccer. Just look at the prior history of this club not including the last 5 years or so.

    Everyone wants to blow off the history of this team as to why this team should remain in Columbus, but the history shows the fans will support this team.

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  • Steve

    Another thing Ron.

    Youi quote seeing yellow seats on DK as your “evidence” why Columbus is such a horrible market.

    Try coming to a game before you form such an idiotic opinion.

    I have been to every game at CCS this season and last. Sure,some games are more disappointing than others, but the crowds this year have been better than in the past. The only thing that cures bad crowd is competent management and winning and the Crew are showing both this season. And with a young team like they have there should be little doubt about the immediate future.

    If it stays this way after a few more years of winning then come back and talk to me. No one knows how bad management and this team has been here over the last 4-5 years like Crew fans and to have outsider fans like yourself come in and say we don’t support soccer in Columbus shows how ignorant you are about the situation.

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  • Mike

    So this is how MLS rewards what is arguably its most loyal franchise; the first to build a soccer-specific stadium? MLS is starting to implode, opting for marketing (Beckham, Vegas) over substance. The business model has to go, but this isn’t the way to do it.

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  • Ron

    Come off it, Steve. Over the course of games the camera shows most of your empty Crew stadium. It makes watching your games painful to watch, a good team on the field with some world-class players, but with a crowd that looks like a women’s college soccer crowd and sounds like three guys yelling at a high school game. Other than a game or two where maybe you have 10k or so people in the seats the Crew’s turnstile numbers have been obviously terrible, despite having a quality team. So much for your theory that a good team will bring the people out. It hasn’t.

    And pointing the finger at other poorly supported teams hardly helps your case. It just shows MLS’s vaunted strategy of “build the SSS’s and they will come” is too often not working. It is not working in Columbus, it is certainly not working in Dallas, it is not working for Chivas, and it is a horrible flop for Colorado, whose turnstile numbers are even worse than the Crew’s.

    Even more ominous for non-drawing teams like Columbus is MLS’s salary cap. This means that succesful teams on the field (like Columbus this year) have to get blown up after some brief success and trade away most of their good players to stay under the salary cap. So what happens when Columbus goes back to the basement after (presumably) winning an MLS Cup or two? Answer, your bad attendance gets even worse, and you are still losing money.

    So even the best case scenario is a picture of commercial failure. A number of MLS teams will likely have to relocate, and COlumbus is likely one of them.

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  • Steve

    What team in sports has ever gone through a long stretch of losing and absolute failure throughout the organization and gotten back attendance?

    Answer: Very very few if any.

    Why would you expect Columbus to just come back to watch an organization that has been horrendous through 1 good season when it doesn’t happen in precious places that are protected like NY, LA, and NE that you completely ignore are having attendance problems of their own, after having more recent success? Answer that while ignoring the good fan history of the Crew before all of the crap happened here. What a rediculous argument you have.

    I do wonder what team you support that you feel like you can look down on the Crew and their support and just think that they need to be relocated because you said so.

    I would also suggest you check attendance numbers for the season before you say a few good games and everything else around 10K.

    What is painful is listening to this rediculous argument you have made up in your head to need relocate the Crew when there are many teams who are having the same, or worse, problems.

    And telling me to come off it is not a good argument. You have no idea about anything Columbus Crew and are just talking out of your butt.

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  • Steve

    BTW that first comment should be: What team in sports has ever gone through a long stretch of losing and absolute failure throughout the organization and gotten back attendance right away?

    Plenty of teams have gotten back attendance after complete failure. But it takes time and earning back the fans trust and winning.

    The general rule has always been that the second year is when you see an increase in attendance.

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  • Justin O

    Steve

    Just a general comment, and not really relating to the specifics of the latest news, but the connection between attendance and team performance in MLS has always been tenuous at best. I’m not saying that isn’t changing, and I’m not saying that Columbus might not be an exception, but by and large, MLS has not shown much of a connection between winning and ticket sales.

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  • johnie

    Move Chivas to Vegas and rebrand them. that would put them half way between LA and RSL. It would give people in LA another reason to go to Vegas on the weekend too! Please, please, no Vegas games on Thursdays or Sundays.

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  • Ron

    Steve, again, as if comparing yourself to Dallas helps. OK, if it makes you feel better, Dallas has failed in Frisco, too. Chivas is doing every bit as bad as the Miami Fusion and look where it got the Fusion.

    Attendance figures from the league/club don’t mean anything. That is just tickets distributed, including the ones given away for free which still ended up in the wastebasket. The turnstile is everything when it comes to real attendance.

    It is funny to hear the rationalizations of the empty stadiums. “Oh, well, you see, there was no one in the seats, but wow there were lots of people on the mezzanine!” Or, “well, you see, the camera only showed the rainy/sunny/hot/cold/snowing/tornado stricken/bubonic plagued/ etc. side of the stadium! The 20,000 people were on the comfortable side of the stadium, which is always completely out of camera view, sitting on laps!”

    Puh-lease… Talk about fabricated arguments. If there really are all these tens of thousands of fans who show up at every Crew game, please tell them to stop coming dressed as empty yellow bleachers. And tell them to cheer louder than the chirping crickets.

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  • bc6

    Steve, don’t argue with a moron. Ron is a scourge to this debate and has nothing of any value to bring to the table.

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  • Brant

    Just an FYI for those of you who haven’t been to Crew Stadium

    The vast majority of the season ticket holders sit on the same side as the cameras. The three sections right behind the bleachers are the premium “bucket” seats instead of benches, and the sun goes down behind that section, so it’s not in your face the entire second half like it is sitting on the opposite side (the side facing the camera).

    The west side of the stadium, where around the cameras, has been downright crowded for every game I’ve been to this year, except for 2: the game v Chivas (in the rain) and the game against Metapan (exhibition).

    .

    .

    .

    Again – if the only argument you have to make is that of attendance, then point your cannons somewhere besides Columbus, because Chivas, FCD, RSL, and others are doing far worse.

    .

    .

    .

    Note:I don’t count KC (right now) b/c they have a small park while they get their new one built, and their MAX attendance isn’t as big as COlumbus has been averaging.

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  • Justin O

    Brant

    As a completely and totaly neutral onlooker – going by admittedly less than exact appearances on TV – Chivas, FCD, Colorado, NY, NE, and Columbus really all look close to the same, when you factor in day of the week, weather, and the other usual factors. It really doesn’t look like any of them are doing “far worse,” or far better, than any of the others. Somewhat better or somewhat worse, perhaps.

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  • Steve

    Ron,

    One last comment and I am done because you have done nothing but make up facts and put words in the mouths of Crew fans.

    My argument is not that other teams have bad attendance, but that if those other teams have bad attendance why is no one calling for them to be moved like they are the Crew, especially teams in larger markets. What makes them so protected?

    Go to a game. It is a fact that one side of the stadium is always more full than the other, minus the supporters section on that other side.

    And to say the stadium has been quiet this year is a joke considering there is always constant noise and from the supporters section. Just a suggestion. Try turning up the volume on your DK. You know, the thing that makes noise? Or hell, try coming to a game at CCS before you make ignorant comments.

    Anyway, since I have asked 2 times now. What team is it you support that you are some expert on this opinion and think you are able to look down on the Crew.

    My guess. Not one that is at the top of the league. Oh wait that would be the Crew wouldn’t it?

    Like

  • Brant

    Justin – you’re reiterating my point for me. If the issue with Columbus is the lack of attendance, then we should be talking about relocating 6 other teams, too.

    (not directly addressing Justin here…)

    If the issue is the lack of naming rights deal for the stadium, waaaah. We have a stadium not named after some idiot freakin’ company. Is that *really* that important? “Soldier Field” or “St James Park” or “Highbury” or “Craven Cottage” or “Olympiastadion” sure sounds a lot better than “Enron Field” or “Xcel Energy Park”. Yeah, I know that it’s still known as “Crew Stadium”, but that sounds better than “DIck’s Sporting Goods Park”.

    There’s been an underperforming team there for a while. 2004 they won the Supporters Shield, imploded in ’05 and brought Sigi in to clean up the mess. ’06 he started putting his players in place, and ’07 would’ve been much better had everyone not been hurt. Now that the players are in place AND healthy, look at what they’ve got.

    They’re still (at best) the third team in a one-franchise town, but they aren’t really competing for the same audience the Blue Jackets are. But is it really that bad of a market? I hardly think so. Crew fans are there, and they’re vocal, and they’re fun, and they’re passionate. Yes franchises move, but they usually move to better situations, and I cannot possibly fathom how Vegas is a better situation.

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  • elopingcamel

    I don’t think the argument is who should be traded, because if that were the case I think a fairly loud and resounding “CHIVAS” would be shouted from the rooftops. They’ve been around fewer years than the Crew, average fewer fans per game than the Crew, have no stadium of their own (unlike the Crew), etc., etc.

    In a perfect situation, the Vegas group would be in negotiations to buy shares in Chivas.

    What we have instead is a situation where Hunt owns two teams, while the guy that owns the Chivas mothership only owns one MLS team. The chances of him wheelin’ and dealin’ with a new ownership group are slim to none. So (and perhaps after researching and discussing options with the league and a few owners), the only real option was the Crew. You’ve got a new ownership group in KC (another team that “should” move before Columbus) that seems very committed to staying put, you’ve got RSL and NY finally getting their own stadiums (so they are definitely not going to move any teams within a few years of getting their own stadium) and both have solid and committed owners, SJ just came back (and thus won’t be moving), Colorado just got a stadium a few years ago, etc.

    The only other group (that i am aware of) that owns more than one team is AEG, but not only has Houston only recently moved to Houston (and probably unlikely to be moved), de la Hoya has already done what these guys want to do: he bought himself a stake in the team.

    My guess is that, despite Caligiuri’s “history” with Columbus, this is nothing personal; it may have been the only option open to them to not only bring a team to Vegas, but maybe just to get their hands on a team.

    Like

  • Fumar

    “Salt Lake to be relocated???? – You are saying this about a week BEFORE they move into their brand new sss?

    Has to be the mindless post of the year nominee….”

    -LongDuckDong

    I’m thinking long term here. Like 15-30 years long term. Salt Lake is a small market, without many Latin American or European immirgants. That just doesn’t bode well for long term attendance. On the other hand, if the new stadium makes them profitable then so be it. Profitablility is what ultimately will bring in big-bucks investors and with it credibility. But thinking LONG TERM it just doesn’t look like small market teams like Salt Lake can support big expensive franchises. It’s fine for now, just not LONG TERM.

    Like

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