By now, hopefully you’ve seen my article this morning on the change in approach for D.C. United with regard to its stadium situation and the brief Q&A that I had with D.C. mayor Vincent C. Gray on Wednesday about D.C. United and its future.
This whole saga is far from over, but one thing that stands out is the juxtaposition of D.C. United's ongoing facility struggles with the celebration of RFK Stadium’s 50th anniversary.
That celebration began in earnest on Wednesday, and by no means was D.C. United overlooked during the kickoff event at RFK. In fact, every dignitary involved in the event on the field where United plays each weekend thanked the team for doing just that. Former Redskins defensive end Charles Mann even said he watches Fox Soccer channel more than any other station.
But there was a sense that what happened in the past at RFK — namely, baseball and football — and what most of the politicians would prefer happens there in the future — again, football — was far more important than the building’s current tenant.
“I won’t rest until the day our football team plays back on this site,” District Ward 2 councilmember Jack Evans said, followed shortly thereafter by Gray recalling how the stands had bounced when the Redskins beat Dallas to claim the NFC Championship in 1982.
No matter that the stands do that nearly every time D.C. United plays, albeit much more often when wins were more frequent a few years back.
And while Events DC president and CEO Gregory A. O’Dell trumpeted the success of last month’s football game between Morehouse and Howard (attendance: 18,409), and last year’s Military Bowl between Maryland and East Carolina (attendance: 38,062), no mention was made of the racially and ethnically diverse group of more than 45,000 back in June that watched the Gold Cup quarterfinal doubleheader involving the U.S., Jamaica, El Salvador and Panama.
Of course, D.C. United doesn’t attract that kind of crowd on a regular basis, but the truth is that RFK Stadium, right now, is a building that is synonymous with soccer above all else. Those that most often deal with the dark and cramped concourses, the falling apart restrooms and lack of other modern amenities — especially those that would help D.C. United earn more money on game days — are soccer fans (or D.C. United employees).
A college bowl game attracts an entirely different set of people: fans who want to see their team and are far less vested in the location. Baseball came, turned things upside down, and went. Pro football is another decade away, at least.
For all the talk about the importance of RFK Stadium to the District as well as the desire to improve it and preserve it — or even to blow it up and rebuild on a grander scale so the Redskins can return — D.C. United still is left looking like a non-football school in the Big East: graciously thanked for what it offers today yet only of cursory importance when it comes to any future planning.
Now, anyone at D.C. United will be the first to tell you that they don’t believe for a moment that they’re more important to this city than the Redskins, or that their history runs back further than baseball’s. And yes, they’ve been on a short-term lease since 2008, essentially with one foot out the door for the past four years while they’ve pursued their own stadium. It’s hardly a commitment, and that will have to change if D.C. United is going to look at remaining right where it is for the foreseeable future, which it is taking the first steps toward doing — team officials and Events DC are tentatively scheduled to meet next week.
Will that be enough to change the perception of what D.C. United means to RFK? It’s hard to say.
At the end of Wednesday’s event on the RFK field, Evans and Gray were tossing a football.