The Washington Spirit is in advanced talks with D.C. United about playing a National Women’s Soccer League match this summer at United’s new stadium, testing the waters for possibly multiple games at Audi Field in coming seasons.
Tom Hunt, United’s president of business operations, confirmed the discussions Friday, saying: “We plan to program a variety of events, including women’s soccer. To that end, we are engaged in discussions with the Spirit on a match in late August.”
Spirit President Chris Hummer said, “We’ve come to terms, but it’s up to the scheduling whether we can pull it off.”
Neither specified a date, but the only weekend in which both United and the Washington Nationals, who play two blocks away, are out of town is Aug. 25-26. Because of parking and logistical issues, United is trying to avoid scheduling events on the same day as baseball games.
The NWSL has yet to announce the 2018 schedule. The season will kick off in late March.
The Spirit, which is entering its sixth season, is based at Maryland SoccerPlex in upper Montgomery County, 35 miles from downtown Washington. The distance and lack of public transportation to the 5,200-seat complex in Boyds dissuade many potential ticket buyers from attending matches, Hummer said. Annual average attendance has ranged from 3,300 to 4,100. The league average last year was 5,083, a figure skewed by the runaway leaders, the Portland Thorns, at 17,653.
“We believe there’s large fan support in the city,” Hummer said. “People try to come but lament the distance. We want to give [Audi Field] a shot and see what demand is like. It could be a great opportunity to play a few games there every year.”
The Spirit would have to pay an undisclosed figure to use the 20,0000-capacity stadium, which United is building for more than $300 million as part of a public-private partnership with the city. It will open in mid-July and replace RFK Stadium as United’s home.
If successful, playing at Audi Field could have a domino effect for the Spirit: Additional matches in the hub of the metro area and in front of bigger crowds would attract more sponsors and, from a business standpoint, help the Spirit keep pace with front-running Portland and others.
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