D.C. United Could Spurn Buzzard Point for New Stadium Outside City Limits

Between the FIFA arrests last week and Sepp Blatter’s resignation this week, it seemed as if the soccer world (and the non-soccer world) stopped spinning.  However, Major League Soccer’s (MLS) D.C. United had a bit of shocking news of their own.  According to The Washington Post, D.C. United may be looking to build a stadium outside of the city in Northern Virginia.  The club has battled with the city politicians for over two years to finally secure funding and the rights to a stadium at Buzzard Point.  The current stadium plan still faces a few roadblocks, but the stadium could be up and running as early as 2017.

READ: DC United Celebrate as Stadium Plan Approved, though Eminent Domain Looms

D.C. United is reportedly resistant to paying for cost overruns in building the stadium.  The District is already paying over $150 million directly, not including $43 million in tax revenue, to help build the stadium.  The club anticipates they will also contribute $150 million to building their stadium and leaving its current home, the crumbling RFK Stadium.  The proposed new stadium at Buzzard Point would be the most expensive in MLS to date.

Latest news has Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe trying to lure D.C. to Loudoun County in Northern Virginia, more than 40 minutes outside of D.C.  Jason Levien, the managing partner who is handling stadium discussions for D.C. United, reportedly sat down with economic development director from Loudoun, Buddy Rizer, several weeks ago.

Several have speculated that Levien is merely trying to use these discussions as a bargaining chip and have little interest in a stadium in Loudoun.  Levien may threaten to have the stadium built elsewhere if D.C. negotiators are trying to stick the club with a huge bill after construction.  Nevertheless, there’s some benefits and costs to building a stadium in Loudoun.

Benefits of a Loudoun Stadium

Rizer noted that the stadium would be cheaper to build the stadium by approximately $38 million.  This might be enough for D.C. United to consider other options if money is an issue, though funding does not seem to be an issue with Erick Thohir as majority owner.  Thohir also led negotiations to purchase Italian club Inter Milan and also is the president of the Southeast Asia Basketball Association.

Finally, the stadium would be guaranteed to be built by the 2017 season.  This could bring profits to the club sooner than if they moved forward with a stadium at Buzzard Point.

Threats of a Loudoun Stadium

Building a stadium outside of a city goes against the model of success that MLS has used in recent years.  Since soccer must compete in a crowded sports market, MLS has decided to bring the soccer to the fans.  Newly built downtown stadiums have been a huge success in recent years.  D.C. United has struggled to draw fans to RFK Stadium, despite holding first place throughout the first third of the season.

READ: Week 13 MLS Average Attendance 22,948, 3rd Highest Week in 2015

A stadium outside of the district might make the commute to the stadium easier for any of the club’s current fans living outside of D.C.  However, this will likely alienate any and all potential fans that live in the District.  Building stadiums within the city limits encourages more fan participation.  There are fewer roadblocks for potential fans to see a game, allowing them to leverage public transit where it’s available.

The biggest risk in moving the stadium out of the district, of course, is putting 40 miles between the club’s home ground and the largest contingent of its most loyal fan-base. Not to mention the fact that D.C. United has been a staple in the city since MLS’s inaugural 1996 season, and the club would undoubtedly enrage its supporters should it decide to relocate to northern Virginia.

Resolution

Building a stadium in Loudoun would deter new fans and target a market that the club has essentially already captured.  Not exactly a wise plan for the future of the club.  In all likelihood, the club keeps their plan to build at Buzzard Point in the city limits.  It will take more time and money to do so, but it will likely be a smarter investment for the long term success of D.C. United.  Building this stadium can only be done once.  The club must ensure that they get it right the first time.

 

What do you think about the possibility of moving D.C. United’s home grounds to Northern Virginia? Let us know in the comments section below, or via Facebook or Twitter.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.