Sunday, October 1, 2017

[D.C. Untied] Taking an in-depth look at the Audi Field Membership Guide

Here is what I know after reading the Audi Field Membership Guide that was e-mailed to non-premium ticket members on September 29th as a sales tool--weeks after they were pressuring supporters to buy season tickets in stadium preview ticket events, which is important to mention:


D.C. United is building luxury suites that happen to be housed in a soccer specific stadium.


Let’s start with some context of what else is happening around the league.


The last bunch of stadiums built for MLS was from about 2007-2012 and includes venues like Rio Tinto Stadium in the suburbs of Salt Lake City and Red Bull Arena in the suburbs of New York City. I’ve visited a handful of these stadiums as a visiting fan. They’re not bad. As visiting fans we’re generally seated in the furthest reaches of the upper levels behind one of the goals and even in the nosebleed seats, one generally has a good view. The concessions are pretty standard across the board. Some variety in beer options, some variety in snacks but otherwise, not much to differentiate the experience from one to the next. Enjoying a craft beer while looking at the Toronto skyline is great but not exactly something I can only get inside BMO stadium.



In 2015, the San Jose Earthquakes opened the soccer specific Avaya Stadium in San Jose. As Earthquakes team president Dave Kaval explained--in a passage I’ve linked to before:


The product in your home — watching it on television — has gotten so good that you have to have things in the stadium that are unique,” says Kaval, adding that guests in his president's suite often want to get close to the standing section, if only to experience it for a few minutes. “You can't just rely on a seat and a hot dog vendor. It's not like it was in 1979. You have to compete with the at-home experience in a way that's different, and I think with the younger millennial-type folks it's these experiences that are shared with friends and family members that can carry the day. And that's really been one of the keys to our success here at Avaya Stadium.”


The Earthquakes may have leaned too heavily into the idea of spectators tweeting each other all the way through the game using the official Stadium App and the Fan Engagement Walls but the team understood that you have to give people a reason beyond Brand Loyalty to head down to the stadium to cheer on their local MLS team.


One of the non-app-based innovations at Avaya was the addition of standing terraces for the supporter groups. The standing terraces aren’t large and they aren’t technically safe standing but they demonstrate that there was at least some awareness that a new soccer-specific stadium should be built to accommodate the needs of the fans who provide the gameday atmosphere. (How much awareness is something I’ll let the San Jose supporters answer.)


Two years later and we have a new crop of soccer-specific stadiums getting built. There’s Orlando City SC’s Orlando City Stadium in Orlando (2017), D.C. United’s Audi Field (2018), Minnesota United FC’s Allianz Field (2019), L.A.F.C.’s Banc of California Stadium (2019).


And there is one thing all of these soccer specific stadiums and the one non-soccer specific stadium (Atlanta United's Mercedes-Benz Stadium) have in common except one: an emphasis on a electric matchday experience, anchored by a large bank of supporters in safe standing areas behind one of the goals.


Guess which one of these new stadiums is not like the others.


Please, guess.


And, no, it’s not Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which has a massive supporters section although the stadium itself is mixed use and does not utilize safe standing.


Orlando City Stadium has a safe standing supporters section with a capacity of 4,000. Allianz Field is building a safe standing section with a capacity of 2,800 and Banc of California Stadium is going to have a safe standing section with a capacity of 3,252.


Audi Field is planning for 1,500 supporters in bleacher seats, sort of behind the goal in whatever space is not getting taken up by the premium customers’ rooftop bar area that has a great view of the Capitol Building if you’re looking in the opposite direction from the field.


Do you know which soccer-specific stadium has bleacher seats? The Columbus Crew’s Mapfre Stadium, which was built in 1999 when nobody was even sure MLS was going to be around in 2002, let alone 2017.


But let’s get to the document that was sent around as a sales tool to spur season ticket sales.

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WELCOME TO AUDI FIELD


We are encouraged in the Welcome section to “[r]ead on to learn about available membership types for 2018 as well as detailed information regarding just about everything relating to Audi Field, from food and beverage options to pitch size, premium hospitality to pricing timelines.” [Emphasis added]


And, indeed, having read further, I can tell you that all four of those things were mentioned, some in more detail than others. But are those four things really the most important things when deciding on whether to buy season tickets--or any tickets? And yet food and beverage options are the biggest selling point mentioned in the guide. Over and over again. Perhaps there a customer who is making a commitment like this based on the food and beverage options available but I have yet to meet him or her.


The sections ends with a call remember “They Can’t Hold Us Back.” Words from goalkeeper Bill Hamid that became a D.C. United rallying cry and were famously turned into a tifo display by the same supporters who have been made to feel unwelcome at Audi Field before it even opened.


Really, no, thank you.


STADIUM FACTS


Here are the stadium facts we’re given in a nutshell, in the order presented: a soccer-specific capacity of 20,000; non-soccer specific capacity of 23,000; 31 luxury suites; 2,000 premium seats; a great view of the Capitol Building; the pitch will be 115 x 75 yards; and the food is by Chef Jose Andres.


Not mentioned… anything else. Not the views of the field, not anything that might make a visit to Audi Field special. Just food and views. Things I can also get just down the block at Nats Park.

Why am I coming to Audi Field instead? Huh? Why?


CONSTRUCTION TIMELINE


The stated finish date is “2018”.


That’s it. “2018.”


Okay, so when in 2018?


What about home games before it’s finished? What happens when we cram 17 home games into 3 months and there’s not only some serious fatigue on the part of the fans but also some overlap with Nationals games, which I may as well add, are not mentioned once in this document.


ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS & COMMUNITY IMPACT


Besides trying to steal environmental valor for managing stormwater runoff, which is required anyways by DC, they mention that the stadium is intended to be LEED Gold-certified. There are some nice tax incentives to go with that but whatever. That’s fine.


But the community impact section is even more vague, mentioning “green space” and “farmer’s markets”.


Is that really all for this section? I enjoy green space and farmer’s markets as much as the next person but it sounds suspiciously like nobody bothered to take and look and see what this community they are going to be impacting actually wants and needs. How about something about the Anacostia River cleanup? Cleaning up the soil? Funding soccer pitches for poor kids like they're doing in New York?


I don’t expect a sales brochure to mention the people in public housing in the neighborhood north of the stadium who will likely be getting displaced but give me a break. “Green space” used in this way is generally code for “patch of dirt with some grass on it” and there are already plenty of  farmer’s markets in the area.


The lack of attention that’s gone into this is just insulting. Especially with D.C. tax dollars paying for the land this stadium is sitting on.

WHY AM I COMING TO AUDI FIELD?


FOOD & BEVERAGE


The stadium will have food from Chef Jose Andres.


Which is great and that’s not sarcasm.


However, people don’t make the decision on whether or not to go out to a stadium based on food. They just don’t. I’ve eaten some incredibly disgusting food at places like the Verizon Center because I’m vegetarian and there are limited options for people like me but you better believe I wasn’t missing game 3 of the Wizards-Celtics playoff series just because I had to eat some cardboard pizza.


I honestly don’t understand the point of emphasizing the food so much. For most of us, the stadium isn’t a restaurant. The only people this might be a real selling point for are the 2,000 premium seat holders who get unlimited food and beverages.


MATCHDAY EXPERIENCE


And I quote:


“The match day experience will extend beyond your seat and the memories made on the pitch. From the fan plaza outside of the stadium to the, the rooftop patio with sweeping D.C. views, a re-imagined Team Store and a second patio on the third level, Audi Field was designed with the fan in mind.”


I can’t wait to make some great memories shopping at the team store for a Ben Olsen bobblehead.


Are you kidding me with this?


What on earth is here to entice anybody to come down to Audi Field, let alone pay to get into the stadium itself? Do you have to have a season ticket to shop at the team store too?


What is a fan plaza and why on Earth would I go there instead of just hanging out at the waterfront if I’m in Southwest?


Again, this is just insulting.


Absolutely nothing about the 20+ years of gameday traditions at RFK and certainly nothing suggesting that we’ll be building new ones.


This section also includes the only information we’ll get on transportation, which is basically “take Metro!” and “we have bike valet”. I’ve detailed my concerns on this elsewhere.


MEMBERSHIPS


Take a moment and appreciate the fact that this rendering includes flags everywhere and doesn't show the giant hole in the stands taken up by the premium club rooftop bar.


(Screenshot taken from the Audi Field Membership Guide, credit D.C. United)


And now appreciate the fact that we’ve been told large flags aren’t going to be allowed and small flags will only be allowed in the supporters section.

So clearly somebody on staff knows flags make for a great gameday atmosphere and has presented us an glossy picture of Audi Field in a world where we conveniently can’t see the premium bar that will be taking up half the space behind the goal and is full to brimming with supporters who are somehow allowed to wave flags.


PREMIUM MEMBERSHIPS


The most detail we’ll get about anything is in these next sections.


“D.C. United designed the suites to foster a sense of community: a genuine meeting place for fans both prior to kickoff and throughout the match.”


SHOULDN’T THAT HAVE BEEN THE GOAL FOR THE WHOLE STADIUM?!


The biggest perks the suite-holders have is use of the suites on non-matchdays--for baby showers or something?--and valet parking. Suite holders don’t ride Metro it seems.


Club and Field level fans get all you can eat food and drink and a lounge with a patio. The Club members will be the ones directly next to the supporters section and D.C. United has been working overtime to ensure that the Club members will have a great view of some empty bleacher seats with a few dozen people sitting around waving flags of an appropriately small size.


GENERAL MEMBERSHIPS


For the rest of us, we’re assumed to be in one of three buckets--business, family, or social--and the only perk mentioned for us is possible like… uh, autographs, a Q&A with Tom Hunt and/or movie night on the field.


Not. Good. Enough.


Nothing about what the average fan will be getting access to on game day. Nothing about food, drinks, or seating. I mean, are we even getting cup holders?! Give us something!

And nothing at all remotely tempting as a perk.


Like I said in a previous blog post, Steve Clark is a great guy but his autograph and the possibility of yet another chance to do “screen on the green” (there are dozens of these every year in the DC area) is not worth getting tickets for.


SUPPORTER SECTION


Please take a moment and appreciate the use of the District Ultras--who will not be in Audi Field--as the illustration for this section. Either this was a deliberate “Fuck You” or it shows an utter lack of knowledge about the people in the supporter section, which is its own “Fuck You.”


(Screenshot taken from the Audi Field Membership Guide, credit D.C. United)


“Unite and sing at every United home match! Regardless of the circumstances, these electric fans bring the energy that creates the passionate atmosphere that gives the Black-and-Red a true home field advantage. The North Stands at Audi Field will be the new home for United’s most ardent supporters.”


I wish I believed it. Absolutely nothing in the way the supporters groups have been treated implies that this is in anyway true.


The key benefits for us: $20 a ticket and general admission seating (both of which are appreciated) and a vague promise of a tailgate area and supporter council.

Nothing is mentioned about the existing supporter groups--not even the Screaming Eagles--and how to join them or that you should join them to sit in the supporter section.


Just to contrast, in my poking around looking for information, I saw this listed on the Atlanta United page as available to supporters:
  • Tifo Prep Space
  • Tifo/Equipment Storage space
  • Capo Stand
  • Pre-Game March
  • Dedicated Stadium Staff Members
  • Access to Away Game Tickets
  • Meet and Greet Opportunities
MEMBERSHIP BENEFITS
The benefits mostly seem to be… access to season tickets and events like a “World Cup viewing party,” something I can attend without having to purchase season tickets at my local sports bar.
SEATING FACTS
19,400 seats with 600 additional standing room tickets.
12,500 full season “memberships” available.
3,500 in the West stand--an area not previously mentioned and I don’t know the significance of.
1,500 supporter seats.
PRICING/SEATING
These charts were not well designed and left a lot questions needing answers. Why is a single game ticket price listed for the supporter section when we were told there wouldn’t be any? What are all those blacked out sections?
PAYMENT
This was the big shocker for me: AUTO RENEWAL ON SEASON TICKETS.
I was not told about this at the sales event and I think that was extremely dishonest of D.C. United. WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN TOLD ABOUT AUTO RENEWAL BEFORE PUTTING MONEY DOWN.
Not only is auto-renewal a deceptive business practice, it is a big change from how things have been done in the past. That this was not brought up to us is beyond outrageous.
And if you don’t follow the opt-out process to the letter within fourteen days of receiving a renewal notice, you’ll be charged for the next year!!!!!! 
This is a huge piece of information that should have been given to EVERYONE at the sales event. Buying season tickets shouldn’t feel like I’m getting swindled into a gym membership I’ll never use and can’t cancel.
MOBILE ONLY ENTRY
Nothing mentioned about people who do not have smartphones. Even in 2017, there are people who do not have a smartphone. What will they do? Even if it’s only 5% of your members, they are still customers. Or do you have to own a smartphone now to attend a D.C. United game?
FAQ
Unsurprisingly none of the questions I wanted answers to were in here.
No more partial season plans.
The auto renewal isn’t us trying to scam you, it’s for your convenience. Scouts honor.
Absolutely no mention of the Nats and how their schedule will factor into gameday logistics.
No details on where the 6,500 parking spaces are. Are they street parking? Do you need a D.C. permit? Are they in garages? What?
They’re expecting a full supporters section so there won’t be single game tickets available. (Good luck with that.)
No more buddy vouchers.
No ticket exchange. So, if you miss a game, fuck you.
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I recognize that this brochure is just a sales tool but as a sales tool I also feel like it’s indicative of what we’ll be getting at Audi Field:
Premium members and Suite Holders will have a nice lounge area and probably some good food.
The average fan will probably have somewhat better concessions than at RFK and a seat in a newer building.
Supporters, tucked away next to the premium bar, which we cannot access, will be standing quietly in their bleacher seating.
All of this sounds massively depressing.
There’s nothing in the brochure that speaks to the long time fans or gives new ones anything to be curious about. Nothing specific about the new Southwest D.C. location and nothing specific about D.C. United or D.C. United fan culture. Most tellingly of all, there is very little in the brochure about what will be happening on the field! Views of the monuments get front page billing but what about views of the field?!
WHY THE HELL ARE WE SUPPOSED TO BE COMING OUT TO THE STADIUM?!
Every new piece of information that drips out about Audi Field just makes it sound worse and worse.
D.C. United deserves better and D.C. United fans deserve better than this bullshit.
We’re being sold a bare bones stadium by a bare bones front office staff and it's absolutely infuriating.

If we don’t get some of these real concerns addressed soon then D.C. United will be playing in front of a bare bones crowd next year and an even smaller one the year after, assuming we all make the 14-day window to opt out.
A 20+ year fan community is about to be completely destroyed because some billionaire across the globe wants to stash some offshore cash.
Vamos.

1 comment:

James B said...

BANC stadium opens in 2018 as well.

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