As the players walked onto the field at PPL Park for the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday, new D.C. United partner Jason Levien watched from the suite level and got his first chance to really soak in the league that he’d become a part of earlier in the month.
The night before, Levien met many of the other league owners for the first time at the MLS board of governors dinner at the Barnes Foundation. He then mingled at the league’s swanky midseason party at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On Wednesday, Levien took part in his first MLS board of governors meeting and was officially introduced by MLS commissioner Don Garber. After the 3-2 victory, he and team president Kevin Payne personally greeted and congratulated Chris Pontius and Ben Olsen
But Levien had an equally important meeting the week before – with District Mayor Vincent C. Gray. The topic: getting D.C. United a stadium. How well did it go? They’re meeting again this week.
In an exclusive chat with The Examiner, Levien talked briefly about what he’s been up to since taking the reins.
“The analogy I would draw is to a race horse that’s in the starting gate,” Levien said. “We’ve been waiting for them to pull the gate so we can go. Now we just want to take off. Our biggest priority, one, two and three, is figuring out the stadium issue. We know it’s going to be difficult. We know there are going to be challenges, but it’s nice to know that the political leaders in the District are behind us and want to be supportive.”
Asked about the meeting with the Mayor:
“The goal of the meeting was to talk about where our head is at about wanting a stadium, wanting to get there soon and wanting to work with him and the city council and District on doing that. I thought it was a very positive meeting. He was very supportive, and we want to strategize over how to get it done and how to get it done the right way. I came out of the meeting excited and energized because I thought the interaction was very positive. It was not just meeting with the Mayor but several members of the City Council. You can tell they’re behind us. You can tell they want to collaborate on getting somewhere. That was the initial meeting, and we know there are many, many hurdles to go. But we’re following up this week. We’re going to start rolling up our sleeves and talking about the details of how we put an action plan together.”
Levien said the feeling he got was that the District had really been waiting for D.C. United to come, that there hadn’t been much activity before the team’s new investors came on board and the District politicians genuinely seem anxious and excited to move forward.
Does that mean Buzzard Point is where shovels will be in the ground? Not exactly, or at least not yet. Levien said he isn’t building a stadium plan from scratch. Existing and previously discussed ideas will serve as the foundation, but he’s keeping options open. Know this about the new ownership partners: they’re going to be very thorough about everything, especially the stadium.
Speaking of which, D.C. United still plays in RFK Stadium, and Levien said that’s another priority, making it a better experience for the fans.
“We’re talking about that now,” Levien said. “It’s going to take time to implement some of those things, but we’re really trying to strategize that while we’re at RFK, how do we improve that experience. You’re going to start seeing some of that later in the season, I hope, but that’s a big priority.”
Also, don’t be surprised if D.C. United does make a signing before the transfer window closes.
“It was a little bit of a disappointment to come out of the gate and lose the last two games,” Levien said. “But we have a good team. We don’t want to do anything dramatic unless it’s really going to help us, but we’re spending time on that, too. We’re thinking about, can we inject a little something at this point for the rest of the season and beyond?”
The new ownership group is also reaching out to local sponsors and partners, trying to engage them as well. It’s a tricky time for D.C. United. Paris Saint-Germain’s visit this weekend should be huge, but there are signs that it won’t be all that everyone would hope it to be. Plus there’s a constant battle just to attract any kind of decent attention once the Redskins are under way.
Levien recognizes that the time to act is now. He felt momentum just from the announcement that he and Erick Thohir were on board, and he doesn’t want to lose it.
“It’s gratifying to start,” Levien said. “I want to see results. I’m trying to understand that I have to be patient with that myself. But I’m thrilled that we’re out there and running the race. We’ve got to deliver for the city deliver for our fans. I feel a lot of pressure to do that, and it’s a pressure we wanted to take on. I’m glad that we’re having constructive dialog, and I can’t wait for it to lead to us implementing our plan.”