Sunday, September 17, 2017

[D.C. Untied] Thoughts on Audi Field and the end of the 2017 season

When I think back on the last few games, the strongest memory I have is from the eighth minute of stoppage time of a game that would not end, just leaning over as far as I could on the concrete wall separating section 128 from the field and shouting at Kofi Opare as he started to scuffle with Orlando defender Danny Toia. “It’s not worth it, Kofi! It’s not worth it!”

Minutes earlier Kofi had scored D.C.’s only goal of the game, his second of the season. Kofi didn’t even pausing to celebrate. He just hustled back as fast as he could go, the one man in all of RFK keeping hope alive that maybe there would be a come-from-behind last second equalizer like there had been at the Red Bulls game last fall. Two goals in 6 minutes. We’d done it before.

Spoiler alert: we wouldn’t be doing it that night.

Delay tactics from Orlando ground the game to a halt. Tempers rose on both sides as time ticked forward. Orlando had come into this game needing a win just as badly as we had and they were going to protect their lead even if it meant nobody clearing a second ball thrown onto the field by confused ball kid and Seb Hines getting a red card for throwing Lloyd Sam to the ground and then refusing to leave the field.

The mood in the stands was ugly. The mood on the field was ugly. And everything grew worse after the whistle blew. The only acknowledgement we received for 90+ minutes of cheering for our team was a half-hearted wave from Ben Olsen.

Really, no, thank you for whatever that garbage was we just saw.

The bubble of the previous 3 games--3 improbable wins--had burst. Those wins hadn’t been the sign of a new D.C. United; they’d just been the universe farting in our general direction. Get hopes up that maybe, just maybe, we could squeak into sixth place in the East and then bring them all crashing down with some of the shittiest play RFK has seen since we got our asses handed to us by Chicago back in May.

Last year’s golden fall with it’s multi-goal wins seems an eternity away.

Why was I even here? Why?

Well, let me tell you: the reason I was at RFK that night to watch a soccer team implode on the field and crush my spirits was the District Ultras. I had to come to RFK to join the battle we face each game of getting the group pumped up and jumping around and to stay that way not just through tiredness or needing another beer or having to pee but when the team on the field is giving you precious little to cheer for. “You’re not singing over there” is a chant that is aimed at other D.C. United supporters as often as it is the opposition’s.


And it was with the sourness of that loss still in our hearts that some of the three supporters groups' members went to a sales meeting at the little stadium preview center by Union Market on Wednesday, September 13, 2017. I was one of only two (maybe three?) Ultras who went but the Eagles and the Barra were both well represented.

From the beginning the event highlighted the disconnect between all the supporters groups and the front office.

The event had been promoted as the “Supporter Stand Launch Event” and I don’t think we were out of line in assuming that the supporter stands would be the major focus of the event.

Instead, we were treated to a vapid Q&A (no questions from the audience taken) with Steve Clark, Russell Canouse, and Paul Arriola in which Paul Arriola was actually asked to explain the World Cup qualifying process to us. The expressions on the faces around me ranged from “disbelief” to “angry” to “not paying attention and chatting with somebody else.”

I could tell that the players felt the anger boiling beneath the surface of the crowd as they bullshitted their way through stupid questions and I felt bad for them being in that position but not bad enough to mask my disgust. If there was ever a question to showcase how little the front office cares about us, people who voluntarily joined a supporters group, purchased season tickets, and many of whom travel for both D.C. United games and U.S. Men’s National Team games (and in some cases run local chapters of U.S. Men’s National Team supporter groups) it’s “So, how does the World Cup qualification process work?”

As if half of this group of people couldn’t rattle off the point totals and game stats from the top of their heads.

With the players released from the spotlight, a loafer-wearing guy came on to talk about how things were shaping up at Audi Field. His first good news for us: Premium Suites were selling well!

The dead silence undoubtedly masked dozens of unspoken fuck you’s.

With a nervous smile, Loafer Guy proceeded to give us the information we all came to hear: no price increase for season ticket holders in the supporters section for 2018; dedicated tailgating area for 2018; no assigned seating in the supporters section.

No questions taken.

And if the front office has cast themselves in the role of a villain from an 1980s film in which a guy in a suit is going to tear down the rec center to build a parking lot in our on-going battle over the supporters section, they only have themselves to blame.

What they don’t care to understand--or are simply blind to--is that focusing on premium clients to the exclusion of everybody else is really stupid.

But don’t take my word for it. New stadiums being built in Atlanta, Orlando, San Jose, Los Angeles, Minnesota… and so on, to enhance the supporter experience.

"Soccer supporters are very enthusiastic. They really get into the game," Miller says. "What we're trying to do is create a better environment that actually encourages that. Four thousand people really getting excited and really generating the energy in the stadium."
Even fans who don't want to be in a standing section might want to be near it, Miller adds. "They want to be part of that energy," he says. "I think the host gets a great environment for their game, and obviously you're creating a very intimidating environment for the team. The club is providing something, and the fans are providing something back."
These are dynamics that can't be easily duplicated elsewhere. "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. [Emphasis added.]
Did the front office ever consider what exactly those luxury suites would be looking out on? A sea of empty seats and bored, texting fans isn’t exactly good optics for your Brand (™).
D.C. is a competitive sports town and soccer is not an easy sell. With all other things equal, most affluent millennial bros--the market that this front office seems to be after--would probably chose a Nationals game over D.C. United. Or a Capitals game. Or a Wizards game. Why? Because soccer is still seen as boring and MLS is not a brand name draw the way the NBA or MLB is.
Do you know what would bring out affluent millennial bros? Offering them something those other sports experiences can’t provide. Something like… a supporters section with a 90 minute mentality.
Would any but the smallest subsection of no-life obsessives turn out to the stadium to see a team like 2017 D.C. United lose game after disheartening game if not for the intangible sense of community we’ve forged?
The novelty of a new stadium will wear off pretty quickly once you’re watching games like the one we saw on September 9, 2017.
Of course, none of this matters if the management group that currently owns D.C. United is only interested in building the stadium and then immediately flipping the team. Which is what most of us suspect and nothing I’ve seen from them has contradicted that in any way. From punting on the 2017 season to the callous way the longtime fans have been treated.
Here is what I would suggest to the front office:
* Open the supporters section to single game tickets. Limiting this section to season ticket holders will not control the more outspoken elements of the fanbase and is extremely shortsighted for two reasons. 1) It is unfair to those supporters who may be unable to afford season tickets or who do not purchase season tickets because of things like work schedules that only allow for them to come to a handful of games. 2) It precludes supporters from inviting people to join in the fun--aka the process by which new fans are created.
Let me say again that I became a season ticket holder for one reason: The District Ultras invited me into their section during a rainy weekday game and let me wave a flag around. That’s it. If not for that experience, I doubt I would feel the need to keep coming back to the stadium week after week.
* Make it clear that you take our concerns about the loss of the tailgate in Lot 8 seriously. The announcement of the dedicated space for 2018 was the start of a conversation but further questions that evening were rebuffed. This isn’t just about eating grilled meat and drinking beer; this is about breaking bread together. It turns the game from 90 minutes of entertainment--basically just an alternative to going to the movies--into an Event. We want details. Is the team providing equipment? If not, where will we store ours? Has any thought been given to facilitating shuttles from offsite tailgate areas (such as the park land by the Anacostia by RFK)?
If the reluctance to do this is because of lost concessions sales, keep this in mind. The loss of a tailgate doesn’t mean people are going to be spending that time and money eating inside the stadium. It means we’ll eat before we leave home and drink our beers from paper bags outside the stadium.
All the loss of the tailgate means is less time spent at the stadium.
* For whatever reason, safe standing is obviously not happening, even though every other new stadium is putting it in. But if you’d like us to stop harping on it, show us that you take our concerns about what happens in the stands seriously. Will there be space to store flags and drums? Will we even have places to hang banners?
And what about drumming? Each of the supporters groups has their own drummers for a reason. I happen to like the Ultras’ style of letting chants really marinate but maybe another group wants to sing for a bit then stop then pick it up again. Should we all be forced to switch to a default style? Do you know how angry that will make people? How is the space getting divided up? Are you going to let the groups work it out themselves? Why hasn’t anybody spoken to this? It’s of huge importance to all three groups.
* I have seen almost nothing addressing gameday logistics and I find that alarming. The impression I’ve got is that the front office seems to think we’re all taking Metro to the stadium… um, has anybody been paying attention to Metro? It’s a shit show. I hate driving and even I started driving to RFK this season because Metro has been so bad.
Have deals been made with local parking facilities? For people who do take Metro, what thought has been given to all the stuff they will be bringing? We can’t just throw our work bags in our cars any more. Will the bag rules be relaxed to allow people coming from work to bring their laptops or backpacks in? Will there be a bag check? Are people who bike going to have storage for helmets, etc.? Are there going to be shuttle buses to the stadium for days the Metro shuts down half of a line for repairs?
I mean, seriously, D.C. United, have you seen the dragging Metro gets at Nats Park?
And you want us to think that 20,000 fans getting to Audi Field on Metro is no problem?
It’s like nobody over there follows D.C. sports.
* Will there be pupusas? Yes, I know Chef Jose Andres or something. I honestly don’t care. I want to know if there will be pupusas, a food that is not just delicious and a D.C. United “Tradition” but also a tangible link to the area’s Salvadoran community. Think of pupusas like Van Halen’s infamous no-brown-M&Ms request on their tour rider. It’s not the food, it’s the continuation of Tradition--a word that used to mean something to D.C. United and its fans.
But let’s get to it--did I put down a deposit? Yes, (although this was before I knew about the no single game tickets thing) and a good number of people at the event did as well. Nobody was particularly happy about it. And just because I did, I’m certainly not encouraging people to do the same, especially if they don’t have the disposable income to easily afford it. I have the luxury of affording a test run in 2018, not everybody does. Nor, frankly do I think the front office has earned the benefit of the doubt for people on the fence.
We don’t know what next year is going to be like. Will I be happy enough at the end of 2018 to sign on to 2019? That’s up to the front office. The only reason I have season tickets because I’m going to the games anyways and I enjoy the silly events with the players. But opportunities to take dumb pictures with Steve Clark are not going to be enough to get me to come out to the stadium every week.
It comes down to this:
If the experience I have at the stadium can be duplicated inside my living room or watching with a group at a pub, then why go to the stadium?
That is the question D.C. United needs to answer for their supporters and they need to answer it soon.

(Don't mess with a riled up librarian.)

1 comment:

Patrick Ney said...

Filmi Girl,

More than a mere fan, you provide a service to the DC United community. Thanks for posting. Spot on !

Exiled DCU fan in NJ

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