CLEVELAND — With their NFL franchise in better shape, Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam are tackling soccer.
The Haslams have agreed to take over the Columbus Crew, guaranteeing the Major League Soccer team will not relocate.
Since October, the Haslams have been working with a group headed by former team doctor Peter Edwards to keep the Crew in Ohio while exploring the possibility of buying the team. On Friday, the sides announced an agreement, ending speculation about the team's uncertain future.
“Throughout our conversations, it's been overwhelmingly clear that Crew SC belongs in Columbus, and we are thrilled to have reached an agreement in principle to assume an ownership position in Major League Soccer and to operate Columbus Crew SC,” the Haslams said in a joint statement with Edwards. “As the stewards of Crew SC, we will always be focused on building a championship caliber team that makes the city proud, creating dynamic and memorable fan experiences and deeply engaging the community to make a positive impact.”
Before the Haslams became involved, there was a strong chance the Crew, one of the MLS' founding franchises, was moving to Austin, Texas. The MLS is expected to put an expansion team in Austin.
Columbus officials this month announced that MAPFRE Stadium, the Crew's home since 1999, is being repurposed as a community sports park and training facility.
“While we work to finalize the deal promptly, we want to state publicly the tremendous collaboration and community support for Crew SC, which has set the stage for a powerful plan that includes a world-class soccer stadium — a critical step that will help ensure the club's success on and off the field,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.
The Haslams bought the Browns in 2012 from Randy Lerner. Their tenure has been beset with coaching and front-office turnover, but the Browns (7-7-1) enter Sunday's game at the Baltimore Ravens with a chance to post their first winning season since 2007.
The Haslams have long viewed the Columbus market as essential in the Browns' overall growth. The team once considered moving its summer camp to central Ohio before upgrading its year-round facility in Berea.