D.C. United owner Jason Levien on new stadium pursuit and more

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Penalty Kicks,Sports,Craig Stouffer

D.C. United managing partner Jason Levien missed D.C. United’s kickoff luncheon last week because he had the flu – so badly, in fact, that he had to get an IV. But he was back to normal for United’s home opener on Saturday, and he spoke prior to the game. There’s not exactly any breaking news here but good perspective on Levien himself and the work he’s got on his plate.

On the offseason changes in the front office:

“We lost some people who’ve been a big part of D.C. United for a long time, and we promoted people from within. I think we made a very important addition on the sponsorship and business development side, [vice president] Mike Schonbrun. I think between Mike’s history in the market, and track record and experience driving revenue and businesses, [CMO] Doug Hicks’s background & institutional knowledge of D.C. United and [COO] Mike Williamson’s vision for how we’re going to create a better business, I think we’re in good shape. I think we’ve got that leadership, I think those three guys are going to do a very good job for us. I feel like we’re in a good place, and we’re seeing results already from that in the short period we’ve been together. Hopefully, we’ll see a lot more.

On the pursuit of a new stadium:

“The 800-pound gorilla is the stadium, and we’ve been hard at work at that. [Levien Sports and D.C. United counsel] David Mincberg has been doing a ton of work on that. I have. We’ve got a ton of other people who are heavily involved in that. I said that we were going to use the machete, and I think we’re in the middle of the forest. We’re using it right now. But I think we’re getting a lot of cooperation and support from the city, obviously, and I feel like we’re definitely make tangible progress. Hopefully that will continue. I’m anxious to have something more specific to report, but until we do, we’ve got to keep chopping ahead.”

Is the ball currently in the District’s court?

“We’re carrying it together right now. We’re in a weekly interaction with them, almost daily, ‘What about this issue? What about that issue?’ It’s very collaborative and positive, but there are hurdles that remain to figure it all out, to put all the pieces together. It’s really very interactive is what I’d say.

What is meant by ‘tangible progress’?

“I’d like to make an announcement that we’ve got it done. That’s what I’d like, but we’re not there. We certainly have a lot of work to do, and there are some obstacles. They’re not insurmountable, it’s just every time you do something like this, and you have to draw other people into it who have different views or may have to sign off on it, you have to get them on board.

“For example, D.C. water, making sure they’re okay. They are, actually. They’re locked and loaded. They’re very positive about what our proposal is and supportive. But there are a lot of different constituencies, and we want to make sure we get everybody on board.”

On working with MLS, whether there is additional pressure:

“They’ve been very supportive. The pressure from them is that they know they want this team to have the same kind of opportunities that other teams in the league have. They know that’s what we want. We made this investment with the realization that for us to be successful, we needed a new stadium. They know that we’re putting so much pressure on ourselves, they’re not externally putting on more. But I think they’re in it with us, and they know that for D.C. to take the lead in MLS once again, we need a path to a new stadium, and now we need to get a new stadium. They’re with us on it, and I talk to [MLS commissioner] Don [Garber] or [MLS president] Mark [Abbott] on a very regular basis about it. And I think it’s a high priority for them. They’ve also said to us, whenever you want us to weigh in or need something from us, let us know, and we’re just keeping them abreast of what we’re doing.

Any concern that MLS is distracted by its work on a second New York franchise, that the league could help more?

“No, because we got this. This is on us. We took on this challenge. We didn’t do it saying, ‘Hey, league, get in with us and we need all your energy and efforts.’ We need your support, and we’re getting that, but it’s on us to get this done. We’re carrying the ball, and we’re going to get it done.”

Looking back at the last 6-9 months:

“It was a wild ride last year. When we came in July, no one really knew what to expect from this team, and as much work as we’d done, we didn’t know where we’d be, even on the stadium. So I jumped in on the stadium, and the team took off. First, it was emotional when DeRo [Dwayne De Rosario] scored his 100th goal, and that was such an emotional thing, and all of a sudden I felt so much buy-in myself into this team and my heart and soul was in it the way it hadn’t been before because I had been on the outside. And then DeRo went down, and we were devastated, and then the way Benny [Olsen] led this team, to be one game away from hosting MLS Cup at RFK was an awesome ride. On the soccer side, it was amazing, and what an experience it was for me. On the business side, it was challenging, and we knew it would be challenging. It was getting our operations in a place where we were going to be poised for success and making real progress on the stadium. Most of my sweat has gone to that.”

On the challenges of leading D.C. United and running the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies at the same time:

“It’s been great. Obviously, this is something that’s very important to me. It’s a huge priority for me, and there’s only one outcome that’s acceptable, and that’s success. But it’s been great. I’ve enjoyed it.”

On fellow owner Erick Thohir’s involvement from Indonesia:

“Erick is crazy about D.C. United. He texts me four or five times a day with ideas for the players, for the team, for the business. He is as involved as you can be living in Jakarta. I think he’s going to be here multiple times a year. But he’s on top of it, and he’s a very passionate, active partner. There’s a lot of responsibility to me because I’m here, and I know that, but we communicate multiple times a day.”

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Craig Stouffer

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner