Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 11:30 a.m. ET
D.C. United's Kevin Payne Discusses Move to Maryland
Wednesday, February 18, 2009; 11:30 AM
D.C. United president and CEO Kevin Payne was online Feb. 18 at 11:30 a.m. ET to take your questions about the team's plan to build a stadium in Maryland.
The transcript follows.
Payne has been with the D.C. United since its inception in 1996. Payne serves on the board of the U.S. Soccer Federation, is the vice chairman of the U. S. Soccer Foundation and is a founding board member of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance.
Alexandria, Va.: Is the door to stay in the team's namesake, D.C. completely closed?
Kevin Payne: Hello, Steve, and everyone else on the chat. I'm happy to be here to talk about DC United and our stadium project.
We are committed and moving forward with Prince George's County and the Maryland Stadium Authority.
Hyattsville, Md.: Will the club consider using their DP spot when the stadium is done in order to influence more fans and more attention to the team and more people in the stands?
Kevin Payne: We are using one of our DP slots now -- on Luciano Emilio. While it's fashionable in the MLS league media coverage these days to act like only Juan Pablo Angel is worth the DP investment, Luciano has been extremely successful for our team since signing in 2008. He has scored more than 40 goals in two years in all competitions.
We might look at adding a second DP though when we enter our new stadium.
Northern Virginia: According to you and your own study, the largest segment of your fan base derives from Northern Virginia, how do you address those fans who not only helped build the team's fan base (three clubs and counting) but want to enjoy the fun in continuing growing the awareness of MLS, camaraderie at the tailgates, etc., when you move the team even farther away?
Kevin Payne: We are very aware of this issue. I live in Northern Virginia. But the sites we are looking at will not be substantially farther from our fan base than RFK is now.
The bottom line is, we cannot continue in RFK Stadium. We have lost millions of dollars each year we have operated there.
I have spent the last 8 years trying to find a stadium solution in DC, without success. We have been welcomed in Prince George's County and Maryland, and we certainly hope our fans understand these realities.
We will build the best stadium for soccer in America, as befits the best team and fans in the country, and we hope no one will feel the location prevents them from continuing to support us.
I-270, Exit 1: Thanks for answering our questions today. With a new stadium site in Prince Georges County, will you solicit entries for a new stadium design or will the Poplar Point design be sufficient. Also, and more importantly, will there be bouncing stands?
Kevin Payne: We will begin a new design process, as a number of critical assumptions will be different from those made at Poplar Point, regardless of the exact site we decide on.
But, we have asked our architects and engineers, who have been at many of our matches, to figure out a way to keep the "bouncing stands!" May not be possible, but we're gonna try!
Silver Spring, Md.: Any renderings of the proposed stadium we can see?
Kevin Payne: Not yet, but hope to have initial concept drawings later this spring.
Burke, Va.: Can you tell us something about where the new stadium will be, and will there be Metro access and affordable parking?
Kevin Payne: We have said one of our priorities is to try to locate at or near Metro. 5 of the 7 sites we are looking at fit that bill. This is a big priority for us, though there are many factors and there are no guarantees.
We will certainly do everything to keep the D.C. United experience affordable.
Arlington, Va.: How much are ticket prices likely to rise once the new stadium is built?
Kevin Payne: We don't anticipate dramatic increases, though there will surely be some increase. But, we will have a lot of different type of seats in the new stadium -- modern suites, club seats with amenities, fantasy seats, we might even have standing room areas! We want to be sure that everyone who wants to attend our matches has a category of seat which is right for them.
Bethesda, Md.: Does or will the Maryland Stadium Authority have the resources to build the new stadium? It seems in general that construction loans in general face unforeseen futures.
Kevin Payne: The state of Maryland and the Stadium Authority have a very strong credit rating and issuing bonds should not be a problem.
Rockville, Md.: Is the defense in place for the upcoming season? Any more needs or are you still looking around especially at center back?
Whats the plan for Kosic and is he signed?
Kevin Payne: We're still working on Kosic -- he has not yet signed an agreement. He is making progress in camp, but we have good competition in that position, which is what we want.
We have targeted one more defender to add. We have been working for some months on a younger player we believe has great potential, but that deal has hit some snags recently and we might have to go to plan B. We have several veteran players identified to help bring stability to our back line.
In the meantime, Namoff, Burch, McTavish and Janicki have all come into camp in great shape and seem intent on ensuring that no one takes their job!
Alexandria, Va.: Is there somewhere we can get more details on the proposed stadium sites? Some places in PG county are a lot closer to your Virginia fans than others.
Kevin Payne: We have not published the stadium sites and will not do so for a bit longer, for a number of reasons.
We want to be sure the communities around our sites are comfortable with our plans, and of course letting our locations get out might affect price!
I can tell you that all of the sites are within a matter of a few miles of each other.
I understand that for many of our fans from Northern Virginia crossing the river is a psychological barrier, but none of the sites are more than about 5 miles from RFK, so I think when people really take a look at things they will see that there is no undue hardship associated with this move.
Arlington, Va.: Can you itemize what you are looking for in the seven sites that you mention? Metro is one priority, what are the others?
What kind of fan preferences are you taking into account? I for one, would prefer the Orange line so I don't have to change trains. Plus, for someone who may arrive on Amtrak or the MARC trains, they wouldn't have to change Metro lines.
Finally, at what point in the process will you be able to discuss stadium amenities like food/drink and the cost of tickets?
Kevin Payne: Other issues we are considering include transportation generally -- is the site served by a good road network? Will there be appropriate mixed use development around the stadium -- shops, restaurants, homes, to be sure the area around our stadium is lively and our stadium increases economic vitality. A big one is trying to take advantage of existing infrastructure, whether that be roads, parking, etc.
Arlington, Va.: As original season ticket holders, my wife and I look forward to DC United having its own stadium (even though the trip will be a little longer). Do you have estimates of how many jobs will be created during construction? And how many permanent jobs will be associated with the stadium in PG?
Kevin Payne: The overall economic impact of the stadium is estimated at $65 to $80 million per year, according to the MSA's independent study. That is estimated to produce the equivalent of 1200 full time jobs throughout the economy of the state and county.
During the two year construction period, the impact will be closer to $300 million, and several thousand jobs will be created throughout the economy. The number of jobs specifically at the stadium construction site will be smaller than that but still very substantial -- many hundreds.
Long term employment at the stadium will depend to some extent on design, but will include at least thirty full time stadium positions and hundreds of part time jobs.
Springfield, Va.: Will long-time season ticket holders have first-subscriber priority for seats at the new stadium, based on the year in which tickets were first purchased?
Kevin Payne: You should contact your ticket rep, but we will certainly be respecting the allegiance of our long time fans through a priority list for season tickets at the new stadium. That list exists today, and you should be sure you're on it.
To finish answering a prior question, we plan a variety of ways of asking our fans what they want in the new stadium. Among other things, we plan an interactive "focus group" on our DC United.com website, in which we will try to talk about qualitative issues. We intend this to be the most iterative process possible.
Springfield, Va.: I have had some negative things to say about the move on Steve's blog over the past few days. This is all very reassuring -- particularly the part about the proximity to RFK. Thank you.
washingtonpost.com: Soccer Insider
Kevin Payne: Thanks for keeping an open mind. Change is always a bit upsetting, but the foundations of who DC United is and our relationship with our fans will not change!
Columbia Heights: Hi Kevin...thanks for taking the time to talk to us fans.
When comparing DCU's current squad to other teams in the East, how do you feel we compare? What are some of the weaker points that we need to address?
Kevin Payne: We feel good about our group -- but we know its early days. We believe our draftees will be productive, and we feel very good about the condition of our returning veterans. Its great to have Gomito back.
We felt if we could have stayed healthy last year we would have competed with anyone, and we are ready to fight for the East and the MLS Cup this year.
Frederick, Md.: There has been some speculation on a name change for DCU. This got even more muddied during the press conference. Can you reassure some of us that you will keep United under the same name.
Kevin Payne: We have no intention of changing the most recognized name in American soccer. We have always thought of ourselves as a regional team -- the fact we have season ticket holders from so many states proves that point!
We will be very much a part of the community in Prince George's County, but we will be D.C. United.
Washington, D.C.: When groundbreaking time comes, will there be an event where fans can come and put a spade in themselves?
Kevin Payne: That's a great thought...you'll forgive us if we've not yet planned the itinerary for the ground breaking!
Arlington, Va.: I've seen the opening date potentially listed as late 2011 or definitely by 2012.
We know stadium planning and construction can hit delays, so how confident are you in this estimated time-line, and what would it take for DC United to play part of their 2011 season a home venue other than RFK?
Kevin Payne: I am quite confident in 2012. Getting into the stadium in 2011 would require everything to happen on time or ahead of schedule -- and we all know how likely that is! We expect to play at RFK until we open the new stadium.
When we leave RFK, we will want to have one heck of a big party to celebrate one of America's iconic sports venue, and the home where we and our fans have shared so much success!
Reston, Va.: Is it nice to be wanted and welcomed by a government?
Did the team need to compromise from your earlier efforts in order to get a workable deal in PG County? Or was it a fairly easy negotiation process.
Wherever you built it, this Northern Virginian will be there.
Kevin Payne: I appreciate your comments -- I, too, live in Reston, and I can tell you that the sites we're looking at are really not much farther than RFK.
It is nice to be wanted! Maryland has a great, professional approach to analyzing stadium opportunities, and the folks in Prince George's County have been wonderful.
The negotiations have not been particularly difficult, everyone has had the attitude of getting something done, so that really helps.
Potomac, Md.: I don't understand. How will you make money if you don't own the stadium in Maryland either?
Kevin Payne: We will own the economics of the stadium -- we will be responsible for all operating costs, and collect all the operating income. Who actually owns the building is not as important.
Hyattsville, Md: With a new stadium, do you see U.S. Soccer selecting the site for more of its events?
Kevin Payne: I certainly hope so!
Washington, D.C.: Kevin, Do you think Mayor Fenty had the best intentions to negotiate for a stadium to keep United in D.C., or did he simply not want to see the stadium come to D.C.?
Kevin Payne: We are looking forward to Prince George's County and not backward. We appreciated the gracious statement by the Mayor's office today. We will still be active in DC, as we are and will be in Virginia, in addition to what we undertake in Maryland. We are a regional team.
Washington, DC: Mr. Payne, I understand that on the scale of priorities this would be low, but is there any chance stands on one side in the new stadium might be constructed so that they bounce like the "temporary" stands on the loud side at RFK? The bouncing stands and supporters have become a signature of the Barra and Screaming Eagles, and DCU matches in general. It would add cost, for sure, but also a uniqueness that's tied to the club's history.
Kevin Payne: Mentioned already that we have asked the architects if there is a way to do this. No promises, but we love it too! Will Chang even sits over there sometimes, and that's the first place I go after a big win!
Silver Spring, Md.: How likely is relocation to another city altogether if the PG county stadium deal is rejected by the legislature or derailed like the Poplar Point plan? Or will D.C. United work to find another location within the D.C. metro area?
Kevin Payne: We see nothing to suggest the plans will not move forward on the course we are on. I don't want to speculate about "what ifs..."
Arlington, Va.: Hi Kevin. How are you feeling? Has last year's health issue been completely overcome?
Kevin Payne: I feel great, thank you. I will feel even better the day we stick a shovel in the ground, and better yet the day we win our first match in our new, sold-out stadium! (With bouncing stands, and the loudest fans in Major League Soccer.)
Chester, PA: Kevin, thanks for doing the online chat. Will you be working with Red Bull and Philly to create a Mid Atlantic visiting fan policy. Obviously, with you and RB moving into smaller grounds you won't simply be able to put the visiting fans in the upper deck.
Kevin Payne: Yes we will absolutely do that...I look forward to the day -- and its coming -- when we have to have a real visiting fans policy!
Washington, D.C.: A significant aspect of the current gameday experience is tailgating. In addition to being a lot of fun, tailgating gives the supporters groups an opportunity to do much of their pre-game organization and planning for things like tifo displays. The descriptions of the stadium plans so far -- an urban stadium style, without surface parking lots -- suggest tailgating at the stadium will be hard-to-impossible. Any insights here?
Kevin Payne: We recognize the importance of tail-gating, and are hoping to find a site which still permits that while at the same time taking advantage of metro. This would have been a bigger problem, frankly, at Poplar Point. We hear you on this and it's very much on our minds.
Bethesda, Md.: Will DC United be able to be profitable now that you have a new lease with RFK that allows you access to parking, advertising and vending revenue?
Kevin Payne: No we will just lose less!
Hyattsville, Md.: Kevin,
Ultimately, what was the biggest roadblock towards the D.C. government not approving your proposal at Poplar Point?
Also, how will the target market or demographics of the fan base change being farther away from more affluent population in VA and closer to a more diverse yet less well off population in PG county?
Suggestion: Build it with immediate access to the new proposed purple line on Metro!
Kevin Payne: We hope our fan base will not change very much at all. In fact, we hope to expand it by adding more folks from Anne Arundel, Howard County, and Baltimore City. Prince George's has been a growing source of fans for us, and of course we expect that to jump.
San Jose, Costa Rica: Was there a reason for why the potential size of the stadium was reduced from the 27,000-seater as first proposed for Poplar Point to the 24,000-seater y'all want to build in PG County?
Kevin Payne: We felt it made more sense -- it's called value-engineering. We would like to have every game sold out at 24,000 seats!
H Street, D.C.: I'm really intrigued by the stadium cost arrangement in P.G. County, where the state's portion of the cost will theoretically be covered entirely by tax revenue generated at the stadium itself. Has this sort of deal ever been tried before? If it works, it strikes me as very elegant and a possible blueprint for stadiums in the future. Thanks, and Vamos United!
Kevin Payne: The public share of the stadium cost will be financed through taxes generated by the stadium and the team. A large percentage of that amount is actually collected at the stadium -- but that is not all the tax benefit the state realizes. Case in point, we are moving all of our visiting teams this year to the Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor. Without this deal, that business would have remained in the District.
Murfreesboro, Tenn.: Mr. Payne,
I remember the design of the potential stadium at Poplar Point being different than what some would say is the "cookie-cutter" model of many new MLS stadiums. Have there been any preliminary discussions on the design of the stadium in P.G. County?
I know many fans are hoping to see it look more unique like the New York Red Bulls stadium that is currently under construction.
Kevin Payne: This will not be a cookie cutter stadium. It will bear witness to the heritage of great stadia around the world, but we hope to make it modern and American at the same time. We love the Red Bulls design and can't wait for it to open. We will have certain general similarities, but lots of differences too.
Springfield, Va.: Sort of hate to ask, but are there concerns about the viability of MLS in the face of the downturn?
Kevin Payne: No, the league is hard at work negotiating expansion. It's a tough time for all, but we will come through it.
Hanover, Pa.: Kevin - much of the angst about the new stadium plans come from Northern Virginia season-ticket holders who, as someone who drives two hours each way when I go to a game, seem to have a warped sense of entitlement.
With that off my chest, does the team plan on having something between the half-season plans and the flex tickets? Even now, I would hope there could be a four or six-game plan that would let you pick the same seats every game.
A full plan is not the only way to support the team, so I hope the team will be creative to help people who love the team and want to support it, but just can't make it every game.
Thanks and good luck to the entire organization this season.
Kevin Payne: We want to get a lot of feedback from our fans on every part of their experience, including ticket packages. We want to be sure folks like you, who travel so far to support your team, have a plan that works for them. Thanks!
Bethesda, Md.: One of the reasons I enjoy going to football or baseball games in Baltimore is that the stadiums are located within walking distance of various and sundry watering holes and restaurants on Federal Hill and the Inner Harbor. Will their be any such amenities located within walking distance of the proposed P.G. County soccer stadium?
Kevin Payne: That is a major priority. It may take some time, given the economy, but we want to be in the middle of a vibrant community with lots of vitality and entertainment options.
Bethesda, Md.: When Poplar Point was the focus of attention, the stadium was just a part of a proposed major development project involving retail and a possible hotel, which is the kind of project Mssrs. McFarlane and Chang favor as potential moneymakers. But it seems that the "urban stadium" site in PG County will not offer those development possibilities. Why, then, has the ownership embraced this move?
Kevin Payne: Will and Victor have always been committed to what is best for the team long term. While they have a vast real estate background, and were interested in opportunities around Poplar Point, the notion that their only interest in that project concerned the real estate was absolutely false. They are deeply committed to the team, and the new stadium.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Kevin. It's been a rough week for your NOVA fan base.
Can you help the fans understand why the situation at RFK is so dire that the ownership would change its geographic focus just to get a new stadium sooner rather than later? Why is renting the old stadium so unprofitable? RFK didn't seem to stop the club from winning championships all the way up to 2004...
Kevin Payne: No suites, no suitable hospitality areas, poor concourse circulation, substandard concession facilities, an antiquated infrastructure, etc. make the stadium non-viable long term. It's also way too big, and it would be extremely costly to make it work.
Laurel, Md.: Great news about the new stadium. Keeping loyal fans on board during the move must be a priority for you. Will fans have any opportunity to input into plans under consideration? Would retiring the number 12 in honor of your fans be something to consider?
Kevin Payne: Our fans are the most important factor in our thinking, and we cannot thank them enough for their support. I know a move to a different location will cause disruption for some. But I promise, we will build a stadium we will all be proud of...and we will find an appropriate way to recognize the best fans in the DC area when the new stadium opens!
I want to thank everyone for their interest. We'll be talking with you lots more in the days and weeks ahead. Don't forget to get out and support us this year -- we're very excited about our team, and we have a couple of young players we think your gonna love! Thanks again. Kevin
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