Tuesday, October 10, 2017

[D.C. Untied] What to expect at Audi Field

First of all, I want to thank everybody for the incredible response to my post on the Audi Field sales brochure! The feedback I received was amazing (and mostly positive). People are extremely worried about the future of this team and of the D.C. United fan community going into 2018 in Audi Field.

The negative feedback I received was people telling me to chill and calling me a whiner. And you know what? Both very fair points. I fully recognize that my post was over-the-top but here is what I’ll say in my defense: by raising a ruckus now, we still time to get some fan friendly policies in place at Audi Field before it’s too late and bad precedents are set.

Okay, so moving on.

There is another question about Audi Field that I think needs to be discussed in more detail: Who the fuck is this stadium for?

As I laid out in my previous post, D.C. United has made the mind bogglingly stupid decision to not build Audi Field to the current MLS standard and instead seems to be building a stadium in the mold of Nationals Park, which is essentially right next door, but smaller.

So, what do we know about Nationals Park?

For one thing, we know that there are a wealth of food and drink options (121!) and that the food and drink options are a huge selling point of the Nats park experience and almost always feature in write-ups about the stadium experience.

Audi Field is partnering with Levy Restaurants, who also run the concessions at Nationals Park.

If you read the Washington Post sports section then you are also aware that the atmosphere at Nationals Park is notorious for being incredibly lame. But don’t take my word for it. In an article titled, “Are Nationals Park crowds lame?” from September 12, 2017, here’s what Dan Steinberg had to say:

Anecdotally, the Nats Park crowd seems to include more older folks, and more parents with young kids, and less emotionally charged (and alcohol-fueled) maniacs than those at other D.C. venues. The park welcomes and almost encourages casual wandering — from the nifty concourse views to the interesting concessions to the frickin’ playground in center field. And that’s great for families, but maybe less great for frenetic noise. Just about every time I go with my family, we leave by the sixth inning at the latest. Sorry/not sorry. It’s my dang money. I can do what I want to do.

Here is what Nationals manager Dusty Baker has to say about Nationals crowds:

“Some of the guys on the team wish our fans were a little more boisterous and crazy, a little bit, like we see at different stadiums on the road,” Baker said. “But we also realize that a lot of our fans are new Nationals fans; that some of them — or a whole bunch of them — were Cubs and Mets [fans] and you know, wherever they come from. That’s the dynamics of D.C., which we realize. But we’re trying to win everybody to us. And you know, we need their energy, big-time.”

And a letter to the editor (no, “Tony Santucci” is not me):

Yes, the team is great and tickets are reasonably priced, but the positives end there. Getting to the park can be an ordeal. Metro is a gamble at best, and driving can be a nightmare. If you can find parking, it’s exorbitantly priced; once you’re in the park, forget about buying food and drink unless you’ve recently won the lottery. Two beers and a bag of peanuts for $29 — I’m not making that up. Additionally, there are 80 or so home games. Do the math; most folks can afford to attend only a few at best. Those of us who live within walking distance and bring our own peanuts know we have a good thing going, but most of the region is not so fortunate.
What I’ve gathered from friends who have gone to Nats Park and from coverage in the Washington Post sports page is this: Nationals Park hosts a lot of “tourists” there just to take in the scene and those “tourists” are usually found wandering the concourse instead of sitting in their seats paying attention to the game and providing the atmosphere Dusty Baker wants.

I’ve also picked up on the fact that Nationals Park hosts a lot of fans from the opposing teams, whether those fans are local or from out of town--even if they no longer have to run advertising campaigns to “Take Back the Park” (from Phillies fans).

After the team moved to Nationals Park, it took them years to get attendance back up to to the kinds of numbers they pulled the first year at RFK and there are obviously a lot of different reasons for that.

Baseball is a big American sport and most baseball fans here in DC had teams they supported before the Nationals (née the Montreal Expos) moved to town in 2005 and most baseball fans moving to town since the Nationals came to town already have teams they support.

So, with the Nationals still in the process of building a fanbase out of nothing, it makes sense that Nats Park would host a lot of casual attendees looking for a Saturday night out. And those casual attendees are going to be swayed by things like: novelty, food options, ease of access, and (most importantly) entertainment value.

Now, what do we know about D.C. United and MLS fans in general that would make modeling Audi Field on Nationals Park a great idea?

Well, first of all, unlike the Nationals, D.C. United has a built-in and extremely loyal fanbase that has been attending games for 21 years at RFK, has stuck around even as the spending on talent dried up, the customer service and marketing departments were gutted, “Hamid and Hope” was the game plan, and Own Goal was the most reliable scorer.

Secondly, unlike the Nationals, D.C. United is playing a sport that most Americans find boring and will not sell itself.

Thirdly, unlike the Nationals, the largest segment of MLS fans are men in the 18-34 age range and there is a young cohort who have grown up going to MLS games and are ready to explode into that age range. MLS’s marketing machine itself is fine tuned and aimed at millennial (men).

Essentially, based on everything I’ve seen, heard, and read about D.C. United and Nationals Park there is only one conclusion to be drawn:

There is absolutely nothing about D.C. United that fits into the Nationals Park mold.

Why are the casual attendees already going to Nationals Park going to walk even further from the Metro and/or pay outrageous sums for parking in order to have a shorter day out at a “boring” game they don’t understand for a team they’ve never heard of and have no context for in a smaller stadium with fewer food and entertainment options?

Please, tell me.

I’m not being sarcastic; I’d honestly love to know what the marketing research was that said modeling Audi Field on Nationals Park was a great idea.

What is it about the potential Audi Field audience that is going to be the exact opposite of places like Orlando, Atlanta, Minnesota, and Los Angeles that are building new, supporter-friendly stadiums to capitalize on what years of market research about MLS fans have told them?

Because my fear is that Audi Field is going to be even quieter than Nats Park because there aren’t nearly as many Philadelphia Union fans in town as there are Phillies fans.

Due to extreme shortsightedness, penny pinching from the ownership group, and what feels like a vendetta against the supporter groups, the stadium is going up with the Eye Sore Premium Bar For the 1% taking up half the room for the supporters stands, without the promised safe standing, and with no ability to mount large tifo despite the fact that fan-made tifo features in D.C. United’s marketing. That much we know and can’t change.

But if anybody is listening to me in the D.C. United front office and cares about what is going to happen next year, this is what I hope to see happen:

* SINGLE GAME TICKETS IN THE SUPPORTER STANDS and a “blind eye” policy about who ends up standing there for the game.

I cannot emphasize enough that this is how new fans get made. Before we knew how to get supporter group tickets, our little gang would get the cheapest tickets we could and go stand directly behind the supporters on the “Loud Side” of RFK because that’s where it’s the most fun to stand. The raucous atmosphere of the supporters is a selling point. It’s what sets going to a D.C. United game apart from going to a Nats game or a Wizards game or a Redskins game. I loved going to D.C. United games for years as a casual fan because of the atmosphere.

DO NOT CUT OFF YOUR NOSE TO SPITE YOUR FACE, DCU. Allow single game tickets, turn a blind eye to casual fans who want to enter in and stand with the supporters. That casual fan used to be me. Now, I’m a ride or die, DCU fan. You do the math.


Nobody is expecting to go from literally last in payroll to Toronto FC overnight but it’s been the pathetic state of the team more than the pathetic state of RFK that has kept a lot of former D.C. United fans away. And those people watching the EPL down at the local sports bar in the mornings? Chances are they think MLS isn’t worth their time. Start talking up Lucho Acosta instead of Jose Andres and the luxury suites if you want butts in the seats for more than a game or two.


Do yourselves a favor and look up Derek Hyra. He’s the professor with the (excellent) book explaining what’s happening in the gentrifying neighborhoods around D.C. and what we should and shouldn’t be doing to appeal to the affluent millennials that I’m baffled are not D.C. United’s prime target for the new stadium because they are the largest growth segment of the MLS fanbase and a booming segment of the D.C. area itself.

Sure the bike stuff and craft beer are great but where is my hard sell on tradition? Where are the ties to the existing traditionally black neighborhood? To D.C. United’s ties to the local immigrant communities? As the above linked article puts it:

For some people, Black branding, and its association with neighborhood redevelopment, signifies racial progress. Black branding provides some evidence that we as a country appreciate and value elements of Black history. Remember it was not long ago that many Americans feared the Black ghetto, and the majority of urban neighborhoods deemed Black were avoided. Today, several historic Black neighborhoods are attracting a much more diverse population, and in some instances Black branding is associated with neighborhood redevelopment.

Black branding is part of what has made neighborhoods like U Street so desirable to millennials. This young generation doesn’t want to move into the suburbs or some boring, sterile neighborhood full of chain stores, they want to move into multicultural neighborhoods that are vibrant and full of local character.

Knowing this about D.C., it blows my mind that D.C. United isn’t leaning hard into its existing vibrant, multicultural history in marketing Audi Field and instead seem to be touting a stadium that will have the body and soul of a suburban office park.

If there’s one thing we all want to do, it’s spend an afternoon at a stadium that reminds us about the new cover sheets on my TPS reports.

Look, I know gentrification is at best a mixed bag. The people in the neighborhood just north of the stadium are going to be displaced by new construction as the area “develops” and there is nothing I can do about it.  

Greed rolls on unchecked through human lives and yet I can’t help tilting at this particular windmill.

It may be too late for the neighborhood but it doesn’t have to be too late for the D.C. United fan base. Audi Field should be accessible to lower income fans and Spanish-speaking fans. It’s the decent thing to do and, as a bonus, it will go a long way towards keeping the “authentic” atmosphere that should be D.C. United’s major selling point to casual millennial fans. They should walk away from Audi Field feeling like they’ve experienced something genuine and special.

Clearly at some level, somebody somewhere knows this, which is why we continue to see glossy photos of happy, multicultural supporters in promotional materials across the Internet (be sure to read the comments!) while the actual D.C. United supporter groups are fighting for their continued existence.

Nobody wants to spend the afternoon at an office park. NOBODY.

This team has tradition and authenticity, leverage those things instead of trying to erase them. A team with no history sells no tickets.


I wrote about the horrible experience my friend with the special needs son had at the last home game but that’s not the only horror story I heard from that night. My brother’s friend “B.” (a long time D.C. United fan) was excited to bring his daughter to her first game only to have a nightmare of an experience getting into the stadium. And when he tried to complain to somebody… they gave him an email address. When he wrote to it, nobody wrote back or ever got in touch with him.

My friend has already said there is no way in hell that he’s setting foot in Audi Field despite living within walking distance.

B. might just try another game.

Why? Because after nobody got back in touch with B., my brother asked me who they should contact and I happened to have a useful phone number and the complaint ended up being resolved.

But not everybody knows me and not everybody is willing to give the team a chance to make it up. Despite being a long time fan, if I hadn’t known a guy, there’s a good chance B. would also have sworn off D.C. United games forever.

This is absolutely unacceptable.

You cannot treat people like this and then expect them to return to your shiny new stadium to spend money just because Jose Andres is doing the food for the luxury suites.

And for the love of Jaime Moreno, put some real thought into the non-premium experience. The suites may be paying most of the bills but I can guarantee that even premium customers don’t want to sit around in an empty, lifeless stadium.

Call people back. Train security to recognize when they should bend the rules for parents, elderly folk, and others who may need special care. Stop harassing people for things like flipping off the ref. Take the time to warn families that certain sections may get rowdy and then move them before trouble starts if there is an issue.

And here’s one final thing that would make a lot of people happy: Did you know the Nationals ran a shuttle from RFK for the first few seasons to help ease the transition to Nationals Park? WE SHOULD BE DOING THIS. There is absolutely no good reason not to. The Nats Park complaint letter above should be a warning!! Transit is a huge issue and Metro blows so incredibly hard right now... when it's running at all.

Look, the bottom line is that I love this team and I want the new stadium to be a success but I don't see the right steps being taken.

It pains me to look around and see so many unhappy fans who are going to be forced to give up attending games by the new single game ticket restrictions or through lack of transit options. There are many long time fans and supporters who--for whatever reason--are not able to commit to season tickets right now. 

I see long time supporters frustrated and unhappy with the lack of support and communication from team while their images are used in marketing campaigns

I see non-premium, long time season ticket holders frustrated at the lack of consideration they’re being shown to them just because they aren’t “premium”.

Almost to a person, every D.C. United fan I’ve talked to is either angry, sad, or just plain frustrated and that should be a major cause of concern to the people in charge because the few that aren't angry, sad, or frustrated have already given up and moved on to other ways to spend their time and money.


Dead End said...

Having met with our rep recently, he cleared up a few misconceptions that they left hanging in the ether.

#1 - DCU not playing on the same days as the Nats. False, just not at the same time, but again this is what the club put and B&RU didn't refute, so rolling eyes smiley here.

#2 - The STM beni's in the STM marketing materials are not fully baked, as in there will be more, they just haven't been set in stone yet. There will likely be some kind of teamstore discount in spite of no mention of it in the guide. In lieu of ticket swaps, there will be an exchange, but I am sure that will still suck if you've got mid-week seats you can't use.

#3 - While he committed to nothing on parking but the situation he outlined, led me to believe that parking may be out of hand expensive. A la what you'd pay for parking at Nats Park, thus $52 w fees is on the table. Most of the Nats lots aren't owned by the Nats. Not sure thats entirely the case, but it might be crazy if you want to be on that side of East Capitol. Insane right? I'd guess in a few years (5?) supply and demand will even things out. My guess is that Uber & Lyft will be our friends next year in lieu of parking.

#4 Concessions - we peons will get Jose Andres concessions. My guess is that he'll pick a menu and Levy's institutional kitchens will butcher those recipes like they did with the name brand restaurant concessions at Nats Park. I never thought Hard Time or Ben's was anything close to actually getting the same dishes as those restaurants. So they're a fail in my book. The only place I ever eat at Nats Park is the falafel place in center field. No idea if its still there, its been a couple of years since I have been.

#5 Schedule - congestion will not be as bad as everyone thinks it is. He gave no insight on what alternate location they'll play at if AF isn't ready. Wondering how things will go, since its going to be cutting the ribbon and starting a full game. I have to wonder about the quality control in the stadium with no kind of test event. Can't imagine where they'd play besides RFK, FedEx or UMD. The later two being non-starters midweek and undesirable on a Saturday/Sunday.

#6 Communication - it sucks. While he didn't agree, I think we agreed that DCU management has done a poor job on this for the majority of the STMs.

#7 I didn't think the club seat prices were out of hand for being all inclusive. We considered it as means to get up the list for parking, but the costs were perhaps too high for 4 seats with the specter of really expensive parking.

#8 Cost control. Club seat holders are capped at a max of 5% STM increases. Makes me wonder if we're getting set up to be rolled year after year, especially if attendance lags given how they're treating people.

#9 Seats. In spite of the padding, I am not sure that I don't find the depth of regular seats more comfortable. I wonder what they're like for someone taller than 5'6". Regular bleachers for the supporters is just a big fat F.U.

#10 My rep had no response with respect to my complaint about kids being totally de-emphasized over the last two years. This year there were no kids event on the DCU calendar, compared to the previous couple of years. Talon is much less visible in the stands an on the concourses during and pregame compared to the last few years. If this sounds trivial, you probably don't have kids.

Overall, still a pretty poor showing by the team. No surprise.

ThisnThat said...

Hey Filmigirl, Missing your bollywood posts - no plan to revive or are you on a hiatus?

- Big Fan!

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