In late 2017, after twenty-three years in Columbus, Ohio, discussions of moving the Columbus Crew soccer franchise to Austin, Texas, transpired. The club’s owner desired a move from their home base at Mapfre Stadium, an historic stadium within Major League Soccer, in hopes of boosting attendance numbers and potential sponsorship deals.
A small group of Crew fans became aware of this plan of action and decided to take matters into their own hands. What started with a few fans gathering in a local bar to work out how they could keep the Crew in Columbus, soon turned into a full-blown movement: #savethecrew.
In addition to fans rallying to keep the team in central Ohio, Steve Lyons and the Columbus Partnership formed a plan from a business standpoint to keep the Crew from relocating. The Columbus Partnership is a collective of seventy-five of Columbus’s largest companies focused on economic and community development, as well as where Lyons used to serve as executive vice president and chief counsel.
“Myself and my boss were the drivers behind orchestrating all partners to come together to build a strategy to ensure that the Crew did not leave Columbus,” Lyons explains. “This became an economic imperative for us. As Columbus is a growing, global city, there were a lot of reasons why we didn’t feel like a team leaving the city was good for future growth.”
In the end, the collective efforts were successful. Through a series of legal victories and a transfer of ownership, the club was able to remain in Columbus. “The details are phenomenal. Talk about a coming together, a cadence of events, that happened in a spectacular way—probably in a way that you could argue that no other city would accomplish again,” Lyons says of the success of all parties involved in #savethecrew.
“Saving the team was just the beginning. Now, we’ve got to build it into a successful model.”
Throughout this process, Lyons was introduced to the new owners of the Crew, Jimmy and Dee Haslam, who asked him to step into his current role of executive vice president and chief business officer of the Crew.
“When I worked with Steve at the Columbus Partnership, I saw firsthand the difference Steve’s leadership made in our community,” says Chad Delligatti, CEO of InnoSource. “The Crew will benefit from these same strengths.”
In his new role, Lyons hopes to help mature the business and integrate the Crew further into the Columbus community. “The Crew has always had a fan base here, but it has never had a deep, entrenched connection to Columbus. My job is to grow the business and build a fan base that represents all that is Columbus and all that is soccer,” he explains. “Our fans are the reason why we exist.”
The organization is building a $300 million, state-of-the-art stadium in the heart of the downtown area in the hopes of appealing to the next generation of those calling Columbus home. “We want to create an atmosphere or experience that people want to be a part of,” Lyons explains. “Columbus is home to 140,000 college students, and I want to tap into that young fan base to fill the stands now and to help build the next generation of fans.”
“The Crew has always had a fan base here, but it has never had a deep, entrenched connection to Columbus. . . . Our fans are the reason why we exist.”
Another initiative that Lyons hopes to drive forward is the team’s corporate support base. “We just recently announced two of the largest partnerships in the history of the club with Nationwide for our jersey sponsor and Ohio Health as our official healthcare partner,” Lyons says. Ohio Health will also have naming rights to the Crew’s practice facility. The club’s new stadium has yet to find a partner for naming rights, but Lyons hopes to be a part of forging these new business relationships.
Beyond the business initiatives that he hopes to head up for the Crew, Lyons aims to make a point of appreciating what makes his job and this team exciting. “Every city has a sports franchise that they get to call their own, but no other city has a team or sports franchise that they can claim that they organically prevented from leaving their city,” Lyons says. “It’s almost like we’ve got this broad community ownership of the team. I always say that success has a thousand fathers, and in this case, it literally does. Saving the team was just the beginning. Now, we’ve got to build it into a successful model.”
For Lyons, there is a personal connection to his work at the Crew as well: it’s an opportunity to finish what he started.
“To be able to take a team from lost, to saved, to then building it into what we aspire to be—one of the top five teams in the MLS—as well as change the perspective of Columbus along the way,” he explains, “it’s really personal for me.”
With his dedication to aiding in the development of the city of Columbus, Lyons’s personal and business missions at the Crew are certain to flourish.