Teleconference Transcript: Anthony Precourt
Anthony Precourt (AP): Thank you all for your time today. As you are aware, I accepted Mark McCullers’ resignation today as President of the Crew, Crew Stadium and the Crew Soccer Foundation. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mark and all that he’s accomplished over the past 15 years. When Mark and I met over the weekend, he talked about the future of the club and the direction we need to go to be one of the top clubs in the League. Following that discussion, Mark and I felt that it was in the best interest of the club to make a change in leadership and I accepted his resignation. I’d like to personally thank Mark for everything he has given this organization. He has a tremendous passion for this club, for this city and the League. I wish him nothing but the best as he takes this next step in his life and his career. Now we must transition our focus to finding a new President for the club and we plan on being very thorough in our search since this is such a critical role in guiding this organization into the future. We don’t have a set timetable for the search, but we will develop a search committee and we will find the next leader for this organization. Not dissimilar to how we conducted our search to find Gregg Berhalter, our new Sporting Director and Head Coach.
On how the backlash with the Time Warner Cable television deal played a part in the decision to part ways:
AP: This is really about the future direction of the club and the vision I see for the Columbus Crew. Mark and I had the opportunity to work together for the last eight months. We’ve worked well together. Obviously, the offseason is the most important time of the year for our front office. We had a number of things going on here at the club that Mark and I were working on, and we didn’t have a lot of time to talk about the future. As we concluded the offseason, all the good news has come to light in the last few months, this is the time now where I’m starting to think about 2015 and if we were to work with Mark until the end of his contract, that wouldn’t put me in a position to hire a new leader when our 2015 business planning was starting. Again, just as Robert [Warzycha] stepping aside and taking a few months to conduct our coaching search for Gregg, I want to do the same thing with finding our next leader. [We’ll] take a few months now to thoroughly and thoughtfully identify our next leader and allow that person to step into the organization and have a few months to be assimilated before 2015 business planning begins.
On the timing of today’s news:
AP: The offseason has included hiring Gregg Berhalter and his staff and getting the soccer operations of the Columbus Crew in order. We’ve had to do extensive planning with renegotiating our lease at Obetz and improving the facilities out in Obetz with the locker room, with the Premier East [seating], with the scoreboard, with the Dayton affiliation. There are other things that I cannot discuss yet, we’ve been very, very, very busy. Mark’s contract was up in November and to work with Mark through the end of his contract wouldn’t put me in the position to hire our next leader the way I would like. I need time to be thorough and thoughtful about that choice. It’s almost April, this will give me time to identify our next leader and get that leader assimilated prior to our 2015 business planning. That’s the reason for the timing.
On the transition:
AP: The decision-making is transferred to me as the interim acting President effective today, but Mark will be in the office for the next five weeks to help in transition. A lot of responsibilities have been on Mark’s shoulders and it takes time to pass those responsibilities on to our business division heads and myself. It’s just going to be great to have Mark around. He gets the chance to say goodbye in a respectful, graceful way and transitions his responsibilities. Effective April 30, he will no longer be affiliated with the club and will be a friend of the club.
On role of the new President:
AP: I think that Gregg Berhalter is the leader and visionary of the soccer operations of our club. Our next leader will be a peer of Gregg, in terms of running our business operations. The Crew has a lot to do in improving its business operations to support what our primary goal is, which is to be a successful soccer club. We talked about getting stadium naming rights opportunities and improving our season ticket holder base, our corporate partnerships and other things I’d like to see improve at the Crew. This eventual person will be more of a business-oriented executive. Gregg and the business executive would report to me. I’m going to be actively involved for a long time.
On who will assume Mark’s responsibilities:
AP: We have a great staff at the Crew and we’re going to get a little flatter as an organization and business division heads will need to rise up and assume some of Mark’s responsibilities. So that’s how we’re going to solve it. I have Dave Greeley, who works for me at Precourt Sports Ventures, as an owner representative who is also helpful. He is not a candidate for the role of our new President at the club. He will remain my owner’s representative and a resource to our business division guys. The search will begin immediately that will include internal and external candidates, and hopefully in the next few months we’ll be able to revisit our organizational structure again.
On the change which led to the parting of ways with Mark:
AP: It’s about our future. We have a new era, a lot of new opportunity, and Mark’s been at this for over 10 years, which is a lifetime in the sports industry. I don’t think there’s an [executive] in MLS that’s been at his club at that level for that long. Talking to Mark, I think he’s ready for a new chapter in his career as well. In some regards, it was good timing.
On the upcoming search:
AP:We had a search committee for our head coaching search and that’s a broader committee. In this regard, it’s going to be me. I think at this level, it would be awkward for employees to try to hire their boss. I will be in charge of the search.
On access and distribution of game coverage:
AP: That is something I’m getting more involved with and everyone at the Crew is aware of the reaction to the deal. We’ll have more to come on that subject at a later date.
On new leader’s resume and title:
AP: It’s too early to tell. The way we conducted our head coaching search, we looked at a number of candidates and cast a very wide net, and at the time we were looking for candidates who’d purely be a coach and we’d have to go find a technical director. We actually identified Gregg, who could take on the role and be capable of being both Sporting Director and Head Coach. I think I’m open-minded, in terms of what criteria and we’ll count on talking to a lot of people. It’s like finding a spouse: you’ll know when you know. I’m going to talk to a lot of people and we’ll find the right person to lead the Crew in the future.
On candidate’s experience in soccer business:
AP: I think this is going to be more of a business-oriented executive and, hopefully, has sports industry experience. I think that Gregg and his staff will be in charge of our soccer operations and this executive is not going to be super involved with soccer from a technical stand point.
On the team’s success early in the season:
AP: I do expect us to continue to have a great product on the field. I think there’s a lot of excitement and the players are really energized, and believe in Gregg and his staff and where they’re taking them. I think they feel excited about how the organization is treating them, in terms of facility upgrades. Obviously, it’s a long season and we’ve only played two games, but I anticipate we’re two games into a new era with our soccer operations and I expect over this season and next season, we’ll have a lot of success on the field with the Columbus Crew.
On Major League Soccer’s role in the search:
AP: I have already spoken with Don [Garber] and Mark Abbott about it. I spoke with them yesterday. I made a number of calls, I was on the phone for over 10 hours yesterday and the search is under way. I will be soliciting advice and seeking introductions in a number of people including Major League Soccer.
On Precourt’s time allocation with the Crew:
AP: I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Crew and this will increase that workload and responsibility. Like I said, I’m all-in on this and I’m double all-in now.
On timetable in regard to speaking with Mark about his departure:
AP: We did not discuss or have any plans for this conversation until this weekend. We just came up for air after some extremely busy offseason priorities and I grabbed Mark this weekend and we sat down and we talked.
On challenges the new President will take on:
AP: In terms of business initiatives, we have work to do in driving our season ticket holder base and our corporate partnerships, our stadium naming rights opportunities. We’re rebranding this year and there’s a lot of work to be done there. We have a lot of ideas in terms of our brand identity, our culture and how we make decisions. We want to be thoughtful, thorough, strategic, smart and collaborative. It’s a cultural change internally, it’s a vision change, it’s further implementing and executing some of the priorities that I have for the club. We have a relationship in the local community, so this individual is going to have the ability to get involved in the community and represent the club real well as a leader, speaker and community citizen.