Tuesday, November 29, 2011

To Keep D.C in D.C. or Not...

"Keep D.C. United" is a fan founded and volunteer driven movement with aim at keeping DC United in the Washington, DC area. For 16 years, United has been housed at the certainly historic, but ultimately decrepit RFK Stadium. The fans have certainly formed a bond with the stadium that moves, quite literally, with them. Still, it is no place to call home for a team with such accolade as DC United.

With all the fantastic soccer-specific stadiums around Major League Soccer, there are now only two teams that do not play in one: DC United and the New England Revolution. United has been actively seeking to upgrade their home to one of the leagues elite ala LiveStrong Park or Red Bull Arena. Soccer is growing in the United States and DC is in danger of being left behind.


Currently the biggest obstacle with that is finding a location suitable for a new stadium to be built. The fans behind "Keep D.C. United" advocate a soccer stadium being built at Buzzard Point. This would allow the team to remain in DC as oppose to moving to Baltimore or even relocating to a different region entirely. A stadium at Buzzard point would mean economic growth to the area in multiple facets as well as creating an environment that would play host to more than just MLS. Perhaps, international matches, collegiate championships and perhaps more. I spoke with one of the many driving forces behind the "Keep D.C" movement, Paul Sotoudeh about how "Keep D.C. United" was started and what they might accomplish.


MLS Reserves: What brought about 'Keep DC United'? Can you talk a bit about your organization and the way you came about?

Paul Sotoudeh:  "Keep DC United was started by two public affairs professionals who live in the District and have been fans and season ticketholders of DC United since 1996. Like other DCU fans, they were concerned about the future of the franchise in DC and that's what spurred them to action. Both felt that they could use their skills to organize a fan-driven effort that could demonstrate to the District's elected officials and decision-makers how much DC United means to our community, both in terms of community programs and economic impact."

MLS Reserves: MLS has been working with DC to find their own stadium for years, what has the hold up been? What obstacles seem to consistently be in the way of progress?

Sotoudeh: "That's not that easy a question to answer. There have been well-publicized false starts, first with the District on Poplar Point, and later on with Prince George's County, so multiple municipalities have been involved at one point or another, and the circumstances surrounding each were different. I think maybe in each case there wasn't a true understanding amongst elected officials of not only how popular DC United is as a sports franchise, but also how active DC United as an organization is in the community. Part of our job now is to help tell that story."

MLS Reserves: Watching DCU over the years, what would it mean for Major League Soccer's most historically successful team to relocate?

Sotoudeh: "From our perspective as District residents, it would of course be devastating. I think it would be unfortunate for the league as well - but if the District doesn't make the minimal effort being asked of it and partner with United, it would be an understandable move in the sports business reality of 2011. It would be a crying shame for the District's current political leadership to go down in history as the people that let such a historically successful team leave, but I think that's clearly how this would be looked at."



MLS Reserves: What would a relocation to Baltimore mean for the the fans of United? Would the team lose any of its most loyal supporters?

Sotoudeh: "I think many of the fans from Virginia and the District would attend fewer games or not go at all. The team would have to rebuild a sizeable chunk of its fanbase, but Baltimore is a good sports city and would certainly support the team."


MLS Reserves: Staying at RFK means the team and the league continues to lose money. Is there any solution that, from the fan perspective, is an option?
Sotoudeh: "Purely as fans, we wouldn't necessarily care if they stayed at RFK forever - we want the team in DC and the building they play in doesn't really matter. But as fans who understand how business works, we recognize that the team cannot continue to lose millions of dollars a year as the holders of a bad lease in an outdated stadium. There's a reason this effort isn't focused on trying to convince the team to stay in DC. We know they would greatly prefer to stay in DC. But we also know that the status quo is unsustainable for them."


MLS Reserves: Would your particular fan group be opposed to the team relocating for a season while a stadium is built?

Sotoudeh: "If the new stadium were being built in the DC area, thereby ensuring the future of the franchise here, I think we would follow the team just about anywhere for a season."

[Editor's Note: due to confusion MLS Reserves is clarifying that this idea is mine and not the words of Paul]
A consistent idea that moves around in my mind is this: DC United should move for a year or two (in the vein of the Earthquakes/Dynamo) and destroy RFK. In the time that the team is gone RFK is destroyed and rebuilt with a new soccer specific stadium. Immediately a bond is formed with the DCU fans and wherever the team is sent (21st MLS team?) and once United's new stadium is built, the organization has a triumphant return after a one to two year hiatus. It certainly seems feasible in this day an age. RFK is a fantastic location, it is the facility that needs changing. 
Save Talon?

MLS Reserves: If you could send a message to the league or sit down with Don Garber to discuss options, what would you say?

"I don't know that the league can do a whole lot here. I would only ask that he assist United's efforts to stay in DC as much as he can behind the scenes. I'd presume he's doing that. Successful business negotiations are rarely conducted in public."

MLS Reserves: Have you reached out to other fan groups across the league? MLS fans tend to stick together when it comes to growth of the sport. What would you say to other fans and fan groups across MLS?

Sotoudeh: "We've primarily gotten good support from fans around the league - the Timbers Army in Portland deserves special mention here, because when DC played out in Portland they put up a banner saying "Keep United in DC". All we'd ask from fans around the league is that they show their support in ways similar to that. No one expects opposing fans to abandon their team during the match, but symbolic shows of support like what TA did are greatly appreciated."

It would stand to reason that reaching out to other supporter's groups is a valid strategy. Despite rivalries and moments of competition, soccer in America is something that grows from commonality. When friends and enemies unite, people listen. To see another well respected group like the Timber's Army go out and support groups that love DC like the Screaming Eagles is fantastic. Imagine if the Galaxians or the Son's of Ben lent their support to the cause... what a fantastic testament it could be to the passion of the league. Surely someone would take notice.

If you'd like more information on "Keep D.C. United" or would like to lend your support, visit their website here. MLS fans are at their best when their passion combines to support the greater good of soccer.

18 comments:

  1. I highly doubt Paul said the following: A consistent idea that moves around in my mind is this: DC United should move for a year or two (in the vein of the Earthquakes/Dynamo) and destroy RFK. In the time that the team is gone RFK is destroyed and rebuilt with a new soccer specific stadium. Immediately a bond is formed with the DCU fans and wherever the team is sent (21st MLS team?) and once United's new stadium is built, the organization has a triumphant return after a one to two year hiatus. It certainly seems feasible in this day an age. RFK is a fantastic location, it is the facility that needs changing.

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  2. @Mighty, those were my words not Paul's. Hence the quotation marks around his comments and not mine.

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  3. GOOD TO KNOW... CUZ ITS THE WORST IDEA EVER.. ;)

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  4. oh, and thanks for posting a pic of my banner.

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  5. If it meant keeping DC United, you'd be opposed to them having a year hiatus?

    And great banner! :)

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  6. Kudos to the Timber Army for their support. MLS fans truly are the most cohesive group of sports fans in the States, realizing that changes to one franchise greatly affect the others.

    The temporary relocation idea is the smartest. Why not move DCU to say, FedEx Field for a couple seasons, tear down RFK, and build a brand-new soccer specific arena? If only the District would get on board...

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  7. I'd imagine the financial obstacles of renting out FedEx keep that from happening. It's unclear if anyone in the DC camp would support tearing down RFK, but its location is ideal. For DCU to be successful they'll need to stay near the metro line. That's crucial.

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  8. If DC United wants a new stadium, it's unlikely that one will be built in the city.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Major_League_Soccer_stadiums

    The Rapids don't play in Denver; the Revs don't play in Boston; FC Dallas doesn't play in Dallas; the Union don't play in Philly; Real Salt Lake doesn't play in SLC; the Galaxy don't play in LA; Red Bull don't play in NYC; and the Fire don't play in Chicago.

    Big cities are expensive. Yes, there are some teams whose new stadiums are located within city limits (Houston, Kansas City, the Canadian franchises), but DC has more in common with the cities whose teams are in the suburbs. How many acres would a stadium cover (I don't know); and who is selling that much land?

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  9. Fed Ex is a dump and to narrow.

    the land that RFK is on is Federal LAnd. If RFk is razed, land goes back to the FED and they have plans for those acres

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  10. @mighty

    FedEx wasn't too narrow to host ManU/Barca this summer or WC matches in '94 and '99.

    It may not be the prettiest venue, but neither is RFK, and DCU's been playing there since '96. Most importantly, it's serviced by the metro. Considering how much of a money grubber Dan Snyder is, I have to think he'd allow DCU to play in the otherwise unoccupied FedEx during the summer for 2 seasons, for a price of course.

    RFK is indeed on Federal property, but so is the entirety of the District. And the Capitals/Wizards and Nationals have stadiums within the confines of D.C. already.

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  11. um no...

    a majority of the land within DC is NOT owned by the fed. the land that RFK is on is Federal Land operated by DC government. Once RFK is destroyed or razed, the land reverts back to the Fed.

    UMMMM 94 WC was played at RFK, Fed Ex didnt come around til 97 or 98. Further more Man U was not going to pass up the $$$$, so they turned a blind eye to the field's terrible dimensions. That match was more about a $$ grab for Man U than an actual match.

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  12. The federal government has no plans for RFK that I'm aware of -- mighty must be privy to some state secrets.

    There can be no question that RFK is the ideal location in the city for a stadium. It's at the intersection of two highways-- taking traffic from VIrginia and Maryland suburbs -- and it has it's own Metro station. The problem is that it would be prohibitively expensive to demolish the existing stadium, do the desperately needed environmental remediation and construct a new stadium. The only way that's going to happen is if the Redskins are brought in as a primary driving force. The team has gobs of cash, and the city would actually step up to the plate to raise money for a project that brought the team back into the city.

    For my money, the best project would be one that builds two stadiums there -- one for American football and the occasional big soccer event -- and another for DC United and smaller soccer events. Yes, this would require new authorizing legislation from the Congress, but I" pretty sure the Congress would jump at the chance to have a football stadium in the city. I think this is the smallest of the hurdles this project would have to overcome.

    This would require so many things to come together at once that it's most unlikely -- but it is the ideal solution.

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  13. what about building a temporary stadium (a la Vancouver) possibly in DC burbs until a long term deal could be reached back in the city. I think Vancouver showed their temporary stadium could work. The amount wasted on RFK could just about fun a temp stadium anyway. Plus you would control revenue from consessions.

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  14. Ummm -- huge difference there. Vancouver had a long-term facility already set-up. They were just waiting for the renovations to be finished. If DCU does get a new 'permanent' stadium deal, where they play while that's being built won't be a big concern. If you think they're going to erect some bleachers while they wait around and see if the city will kick in some dough to build a stadium in the city, you don't understand any of this.

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  15. @mighty

    You're right, my mistake, I was thinking RFK for '94 WC. '99 WC definitely hosted games at FedEx though. I'm not sure what ulterior plans the Fed would have for the RFK land, but if you say so... More than likely, they'd just build a better stadium there.

    @fischy's first post

    Good idea actually. Maybe create a sports park much like they have in Philly, with all the stadiums located in the same area. Getting Snyder on board would be key though.

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  16. In talking with Taylor Twellman, his thinking is why not just invest the money to seriously renovate RFK stadium. What would you guys think about that?

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  17. Lipstick on a pig? Hey, as a DCU fan, whatever keeps the team in DC is fine by me. It'd be nice to get a brand new soccer-specific park for the league's most storied franchise, but keeping the team > new stadium.

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