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Will Chang: "Beating the Drum is Fun"

(By Michele Miller, La Barra Brava)

The first D.C. United game I attended after Will Chang became part of the team's ownership group, I randomly ran into the 50-something owner, in Lot 8, eating grilled meat products with fans.

"I'm just one of those guys that likes to have a good time," Chang told one of those fans, out there in the rain two years ago.

"He's out here drinking with us, with the supporters, having a good time like the rest of us," that fan, Aaron Beatty, later told me. "Most owners that I've seen don't do that."

Chang has continued to join the fans in the stands and in the parking lots, home and away, and has frequently said he will continue to do so now that he's the team's majority investor. Why? Well, because he likes to have a good time, and hanging out with the fans is fun.

"You know, many of the owners of MLS teams really don't do what I do, but I do it not because I have to do it or [because] I think it's my job to kind of integrate with the fans," Chang told me today. "I do it because it's fun. You know, beating the drum is fun. Jumping up and down in the stands is fun. And in the soccer culture, it's ok. It's ok for me to be out there jumping up and down with the fans. It probably wouldn't be in a baseball setting."

I pointed out that the owner tailgating with fans would also be inconceivable at, say, a Redskins game, but Chang said more than once that this was a difference between the soccer and football cultures, not merely a quirk of his own personality.

"It's totally inconceivable at some of the other sports where the owner is jumping up and down with the fans, because it's culturally not right in those sports," he said. "Whereas it's totally ok in the culture of soccer to kind of be a part of it, although I'm probably on the extreme side. Although that's all right [too]. The fans, when they first came in touch with me, they said, 'Oh, Will's a little crazy.' And that's fine."

Chang was in town for meetings this week, but will miss Thursday night's game for a children's birthday party back in California. He is scheduled to be back at RFK on Saturday, June 13; look for him in the stands. Here's the rest of our conversation about his emotional attachment to the team, his nerves while watching games, and the beating of those drums.

So about the drums?

The first time I did it my ears rang. I didn't realize, all those guys who are beating the drums have these ear plugs, and I did that without the ear plugs. I figured, 'Ah, this can't be worse than going to a concert when I was 18 years old.' Boy, did I pay for it. My ears rang for about three days. But that was fun. You know, that's the difference between baseball and soccer, or any other sport. It really is very much a participatory game, where you're not just watching, but you're actually participating in the whole experience.

Did you know that when you....

Yeah, yeah. Because I went to school in England for four years and in England, and in fact in many other parts of the world, it's very much like that. Soccer is very much a participatory spectator sport. Some of the other sports you just kind of sit, and once in a while you stand up and clap. But when you're a true soccer fan, when you're out here with the Screaming Eagles or the Barra Brava or La Norte, most of the time the guys are not sitting down. They're standing up the whole two hours. Maybe they'll sit down for a few minutes during halftime, but otherwise....

Is there anything about the D.C. fans that surprised you, that you didn't expect before you got involved?

What was surprising was the level of passion. Because the fans truly have a passion for the team. And I'm a fan, too, so I always tell our fans, the fans have a passionate ownership, emotional ownership of the team, and I'm the same way. It's emotional ownership first, and then a financial ownership. The fans have just as much ownership as I do, because it's really an emotional ownership, and this is very much their own team. It's their team. And they really have an ownership feeling, but it's an emotional ownership.

And if I ever sell, I'll continue to have this emotional ownership, just like Victor [McFarlane]. I mean, Victor decided he had to focus in on his own business. He might not have a financial stake or a financial ownership of the team, but he certainly caught the bug and he still has this emotional ownership of the team.

When you watch games from upstairs or whatever, do you get nervous?

Oh, I can't eat. In the box, I often have a lot of VIP people there, and it's very difficult, because I can't talk to people when I'm watching. I'm totally focused. Everything is very, very consuming. And I don't have the mental bandwidth to be able to watch the game and talk to somebody. You know, I'm a part owner of the [San Francisco] Giants, I go to a lot of Giants games. When I'm at an Giants game, it's easy to talk to people. Even when we have runners in scoring position, I can still carry on a normal conversation. And I can't during a soccer game, because I'm totally consumed. And I can't eat.

You literally don't eat during games?

I can't eat. I just, my stomach's turning.

What about drinking, do you drink?

I can't drink. I just drink water. My mouth gets all dry. I try to get something to eat when I'm out in Lot 8 because they feed me very, very well, some of the barbecues they have are great. And then afterwards, we usually have some meals available for the players, and I just kind of eat the scraps off whatever's left after the players get their shake.

So what do you do when you're not here?

You know, I get every single game through the MLS package. I watch every game, and not only do I watch every game but I watch most of the other league games.

And do you get nervous on TV, too, or it's not the same?

Oh, sure. When my team's playing, or when I'm watching somebody else's game that's important for us, sure, sure I get nervous.

And with the hanging out with the fans and the drums and all that, do you ever feel self-conscious at all? I don't know, self-conscious about acting like a fan or acting goofy or whatever?

You know, some owners in some other sports feel that way. But I've always integrated with the fans from day one, right? You've seen me out. The fans feel very comfortable. If I didn't do this, and all of the sudden I bought Victor's interest and I became the major shareholder of D.C. United and then I started going out, it would be awkward. But the fans kind of come up to me and congratulate me. I say, well, nothing's changed, right? It's the same guy. It's the same guy who's gonna share a beer with you out there, it's the same guy who's gonna have a barbecue and the same guy who's gonna beat the drums out there. Nothing's changed. It's just I've got twice the headache.

Any favorite beer?

You know, out there there's a number of guys who have their homebrews, and those homebrews are great. And they have a great chicken barbecue. There's a guy who has a meat business, and they have this great pre-marinated chicken that they barbecue. Fantastic.

Can I ask you another unrelated thing? With what I do, so often I kind of compare all the different franchises in D.C., with the Redskins and the Wizards and the Capitals. Do you know any of the ownership groups for any of the other local teams?

I've met Ted Leonsis a number of times. Wonderful person. And I've met John Hendricks a number of times, from the women's professional team, the Freedom. I've never met Dan Snyder, or I've never met the Lerners.

Do you compare this franchise, would you compare them more to other MLS teams than other teams in D.C.?

You know, I really don't have a good benchmark of comparison. I just know that I travel to some of the away games frequently, and what we have here is something special with the fans, the atmosphere. A lot of the away teams who come here and play find it very very difficult and intimidating to play. And I think that [has] much to do with our fans.

By Dan Steinberg  |  June 2, 2009; 2:09 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. United  
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Next: Jon Jansen Talks Redskins Football


Nice work Dan. United fans owe you a wheel of cheese for that post!

Posted by: Kev29 | June 2, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Good stuff. I can't imagine Chang ditching town unless things get really, really dire. I would be interested to know what kind of money he has at his disposal to make a stadium happen with, though.

Posted by: the_slammer | June 2, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

I wish there were a way for us fans to also pick up some financial ownership of the team...

Posted by: seahawkdad | June 2, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

I continue to click well over 13 times a day, Dan.

Posted by: sitruc | June 2, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

There's a guy who has a meat business, and they have this great pre-marinated chicken that they barbecue. Fantastic. -- Will Chang


Posted by: KireDCU | June 2, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for a terrific, truly down-to-earth interview!

Posted by: BaltoFan | June 2, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

This is an amazing interview.

Posted by: VercengetorixII | June 2, 2009 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Will Chang sounds like a cool cat.

I disagree that it would go against the culture of say, the NFL, to tailgate with the owner. I think Jeff Lurie or Jerry Jones or Al Davis would be welcomed at most of the tailgates on game day.

Actually Jeff Lurie might get hurt. Scratch that.

Snyder ... I wonder.

Posted by: KeithMcMillan | June 2, 2009 8:39 PM | Report abuse

Excellent interview Dan.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | June 3, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

DC United has been the best pro sports franchise in the city over the past decade by FAR. Yet it constantly gets dissed by the likes of Kornheiser, Wilbon, the WTEM idiots, etc. Not right.

Posted by: poguesmahone | June 3, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

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