Thursday, February 15, 2018

[D.C. Untied 3.0] Are You Ready for the Managed Supporter Experience 2018?!

(Photo courtesy @rabbit0heart)

In retrospect I probably should have found it suspicious that none of my friends in the District Ultras or Barra Brava seemed to have gotten the invitation for last week’s “Exclusive Member Event” at Penn Social. At the time, however, I just thought the event was unusually quiet. I spent a pleasant couple of hours chilling at the bar with my one (1) complimentary beer and chating with some of my dear Screaming Eagles friends.

I also got owned by Zoltan, who called me out for being at all these dumb events. Look, I like events, okay?! I also like a guy who can fire off a quip, though, so if I do get a jersey this season it’s going to be STIEBER. But that’s the key word--if I get a jersey this season. IF.

(Photo courtesy @rabbit0heart)

After the final game at RFK on October 23, 2017, where D.C. United ended their wet fart of a season by just plain shitting the bed, the thought of anything D.C. United related just made me angry and sad. I couldn’t even bring myself to write up the game for a blog post. I didn’t want to think about it. The biggest memory I have of the night is standing at the barrier separating the loud side from the field, glaring at the players as they came around to shake hands and seeing the fear in Marcelo’s eyes as he slowly backed away. That’s right, Marcelo. I yelled it: only winners get cool Brazilian first names.

But it wasn’t entirely on the squad. No, the shit show that is the D.C. United organization has many moving parts. And while everybody was feeling a bit heartened at hearing of all the midfield acquisitions--ARE WE ENTERING THE AGE OF THE BEN OLSEN 10 MAN MIDFIELD?!--less heartening was the complete lack of communication from the Front Office to us, the season ticket members, the supporter group members, the fans… you know, the people who have stuck with this team through seasons where Own Goal was the leading scorer, who have stood through snow storms, torrential downpours, blinding sun and heat, who have driven hours only to see us lose (yet again) on an away game. The people who buy the jerseys with Jared Jeffrey’s name on them because he seems like a good kid and if you’re here, you’re family. THOSE PEOPLE.

When I first started seriously following the team, I wondered how I would have handled a season like 2013 or 2010. Would I have bailed? Would I have stopped coming to games? Stopped caring? The answer it turns out… is yes and no. Did I stop reading soccer news and following MLS in general? Yes, because it just made me sad. Did I stop coming to games and cheering my ass off? No, because me and my buddies in the District Ultras put in 90 minutes whether or not the team on the field is doing so. We’ll be here long after the current money grabbing owners are gone… or so we thought.

Imagine my surprise then at the late afternoon news drop from D.C. United announcing a “strategic partnership” between the Screaming Eagles and D.C. United.

As part of the partnership, The Screaming Eagles will take the lead role to manage all aspects of the supporter culture including single game supporter tickets sales for both home and road matches as well as organizing all activities and in-game fan experiences in the north end zone, in an effort to further unite the Black-and-Red supporter base that established the benchmark for U.S. soccer supporter culture in the early years of Major League Soccer.

I don’t even know where to start with this. Perhaps by saying that nobody informed either of the other two supporter groups that this was happening. So much for “All Welcome, All United.”

We supporter group members had been told repeatedly by the D.C. United front office that single game tickets were not happening so we had better buy season tickets. Some people were even pressured into buying two tickets so that they could give one away to friends who couldn’t afford season tickets or maybe didn’t have the time to attend so many home matches.

To then find out through a press release that they are doing single game tickets but that we have to go through the “approved” group to do so? COLD A__ F__ my front office dudes.

(And single game away game tickets only through the Screaming Eagles? Weird, what have the Barra Brava been spending the last month organizing then? Playdates?)

The Screaming Eagles can support the team however that want. Nobody is arguing about that. I like many of the Eagles members and love the fact that their road trip bus picks me up about 5 minutes away from my house. It’s great that they do charity work. And I’m sure the catered tailgate experience is great if you like that kind of thing. But not all of us do. And not all of us feel welcome (or are welcome *cough*) in their section. I would consider the Screaming Eagles my friends but just because I like them on a personal level doesn’t mean I like or agree with what they’re doing.

If the Screaming Eagles want to be the NPR of supporter groups, that’s fine, but not all of us want to be “brought to you in partnership with Mitchell & Ness” and not all of us are comfortable with the polite, middle class values they represent. Some of us want to wave flags and whip up the excitement level. Some of us want to swear and rip off our shirts without the rent-a-cops breathing down our necks. Some of us want to be able to protest front office decisions we disagree with. Some of us would rather find our home down the dial with the loud ROCKTOBER party people in Barra Brava or with the anarchist collective pirate radio people of the District Ultras.

I haven’t said this publically before but I will now--I strongly dislike how the Screaming Eagles trade on the identity politics-waving the rainbow flag rhetoric and I don’t want to be associated with it. I’m no bigot; I say this as a woman and as somebody who is allegedly covered by that ID Pol rhetoric. But I’ve been attending games on and off for twenty years, more seriously in the last 3 years and have spent lots of quality time with people from all three groups. There have only been a few times that I’ve been made uncomfortable by some dude hitting on me and not taking the hint I’m not interested and those times were with somebody in the Screaming Eagles. And now they’re my only option?

There is plenty of diversity of race, age, gender, sexual orientation in all three. But class diversity… I see that much more in the Barra Brava and the District Ultras. Americans don’t like to talk about class but the divide is there. Some people--like me--are much more comfortable drinking a CVS box of wine in the middle of a BYOB potluck than with a catered tailgate. Not everybody can afford or feels comfortable with wristbands and trying to police their behavior to not break some unspoken rules you may not even be aware exist. But apparently the D.C. United Front Office has chosen for all of us what our carefully curated experience in the supporter group section of Audi Field is going to be, whether we’re comfortable with it or not. Bougie A__ F__

Is there a difference between a supporter and a consumer?

(Photo courtesy @rabbit0heart)

Are small plates and free wifi going to bring people out to a Wednesday night game in August when the air is so thick with humidity that you’re breathing in more water than air and your skin is so slick with sweat that it looks like you’ve just been dunked in a tepid pool?

Would I have renewed my season ticket knowing that I would be having a “managed” match day experience?

I should have known better. I really should have. The writing was on the wall all through the losing 2017 season but I wanted to believe. I didn’t want to give up on something that had helped immensely through a very difficult time, had given me something to look forward to each week, had given me great joy and new friends to commiserate with when the team was not giving me great joy.

I honestly don’t know what to do at this point. It’s clear D.C. United has no place for people like me in the supporters section of the stadium. Road games only? Go anyway and cause a ruckus until we get booted by rent-a-cop security for disturbing the people eating small plates? Take over a bar on match days and cheer there instead?

What do we do? It's getting harder and harder to justify attending games and trying to wait out the current ownership as they destroy our supporter culture piece by piece... even as they continue to use our images to promote the league and the team.

(Screenshot of the MLS site)

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