The organization has also been hurt by declining attendance. While performance has turned off potential patrons — with the league’s worst record, United is all but certain to miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six years this fall — the club has found it increasingly difficult to market the game-day experience at antiquated RFK.
The first priority of the new investment team was to slow the financial losses until a stadium deal was reached. Austerity measures, though, have affected almost every facet of team operations: front office cuts, limited spending on player acquisitions (United has not signed a high-profile player from overseas in years) and deterioration of the practice facilities (the artificial turf field is in disrepair and no longer used by the first team).
A series of land swaps and agreements will be required for D.C. United to get a new stadium at Buzzard Point.
Meantime, almost all of the other 18 MLS teams now play in new or renovated stadiums and, consequently, are on firmer financial footing than United. Next year, when the San Jose Earthquakes move into a contemporary arena, only United and the New England Revolution will play in inadequate facilities.
The Revolution share Gillette Stadium with the NFL’s Patriots. The Kraft family operates both teams and is in no hurry to build a soccer stadium. (The Seattle Sounders also play in a stadium designed for pro football, but the large capacity is necessary to accommodate the team’s league-best ticket demand.)
If the Buzzard Point deal is finalized, United will play in one of the most urban settings in the league, accessible by public transportation and close to commercial development.
Set by Payne a decade ago, the team’s vision is to incorporate itself into its cosmopolitan surroundings and remain in the hub of the metro area. Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Houston and Toronto also play in or near their downtowns, while some teams selected suburban locations.
Buzzard Point does have drawbacks. The walk from the Waterfront and Navy Yard Metro stations is three-quarters of a mile, considerably farther than the distance between Stadium-Armory station and RFK. The venue’s tight footprint leaves little room for parking, although lots utilized by the Nationals would be available when baseball is idle. (The city plans to have streetcars running through the area in the future.)
Those, though, are the least of United’s concerns. There are the many moving parts to the deal. There is the City Council, which features three members who are running for mayor. There are residents bruised by the baseball stadium ordeal.
United has taken the field with its strongest lineup yet. Whether it scores is another matter.