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Goodbye, RFK

Today, the third and last time Phil Hochberg attends a "final game" at RFK Stadium, he won't be working for the home team, as he did when the Senators split town, or wearing a tuxedo, as he did when the Redskins traded up to spiffier digs.

This time, when the Washington Nationals play their last game at RFK and the countdown toward inevitable demolition begins, Hochberg will be on hand as a fan to say goodbye to a building that has won little love, seen remarkably few great sports achievements and yet has somehow ginned up the kind of memories that stick with grown-up kids for all their days.

"There's nothing pleasantly memorable about the stadium," says Hochberg, who landed the job of public-address announcer for the Senators when he was 21, in 1962, the first season for both that expansion team and what was then called D.C. Stadium. "It had no distinctive physical attributes. Nobody ever hit a ball out of the stadium. There was never a no-hitter. But there are great memories from the games themselves."

When the stadium opened in October 1961, an unimpressive crowd of 36,767 watched the Redskins lose to the New York Giants, 24-21 -- the Skins' 11th straight loss. Hard as it may be to imagine, The Washington Post's reporter that day called the facility "magnificent." Fans oohed at the electronic message board featuring five lines of lights that could wish a kid a very public happy birthday. Critics aahed at the swooping roofline, so daringly modern, with lights embedded in the roof because the Fine Arts Commission, defenders of the capital's skyline, nixed the idea of light towers.

The Senators being genetically incapable of success, no post-season baseball game was ever played at RFK. But two All-Star Games were staged there, in 1962 and 1969, and the Redskins played in four NFL championship games, in 1972, '83, '88 and '92. But as fans reminisce, the memories have been less about shining moments in Skins or Senators history than about other events:

The Beatles played RFK on their final U.S. tour in 1966, drawing 32,000 fans; you could buy an upper-deck seat for $4. The Rolling Stones (appearing with Stevie Wonder) shook the place in a July 4th concert in 1972 that Mick Jagger later described as "pretty frightening and a bit weird . . . people sitting on the stage, grabbing at your legs, getting tangled in the mike cables." There were more than 60 arrests.

In the '80s, when Washington had no baseball team, Cracker Jack sponsored an annual Old Timers game, and in 1982, the great Chicago White Sox shortstop Luke Appling hit a home run -- at age 75, lifting the ball more than 250 feet off fellow Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, then 61.

RFK -- the first and now the only survivor among the cookie-cutter stadiums whose awfulness led to the rash of retro-funky, Camden Yards-style ballparks built in the '90s -- sat mostly idle after the Senators moved to Texas in 1971. The U.S. Football League's Federals, who played here for two summers in the '80s, were so bad their owner called them "a bunch of trained gerbils." Federals quarterbacks threw a combined 65 interceptions but only 45 touchdowns.

The Washington Diplomats of the North American Soccer League -- their cheerleaders were the Honeydips -- lasted a bit longer, from 1974 to 1981, but, like today's D.C. United soccer squad, struggled to attract fans. Despite one moment of glory, a 1979 game against the New York Cosmos that drew more than 50,000 fans, average attendance never topped 19,000.

The Nationals and the city will stage a farewell tribute today, but officially, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission plans "to continue our relationship with D.C. United for next year and beyond," says spokesman Chinyere Hubbard. The contract with United -- "our only tenant," Hubbard says -- expires in December.

The city is scouting around for other events to book at RFK. Such as? "Nothing specific," Hubbard says. "We're just looking." She says there are no immediate plans to blow up the stadium, but Mayor Adrian Fenty told me this year that he expects United to move to a smaller, soccer-only facility, at which point RFK would have a date with a pile of dynamite.

How will fans react to the end of an era? In 1971, as the Senators led the Yankees 7-5 in the ninth inning of the final game, fans poured onto the field and ripped out the turf. Washington forfeited the game, so the record book shows a 9-0 loss. In 1996, thousands grabbed fistfuls of grass after the Redskins won their final victory at RFK, beating Dallas, 37-10.

I'll miss RFK's pre-greed spaciousness, the luxurious legroom, friendly ushers, the relaxed policy about letting kids visit the big-money seats to seek player autographs. Above all, I'll miss the RFK bounce, the sections that literally rock up and down when juiced fans start jumping.

The new stadium will surely be impressive (and expensive). It will have a scoreboard you can read. Better sightlines, a link to the city's waterfront and the promise of a new entertainment district.

But RFK, rotting, neglected pit that it is, will grow to be magnificent in memories. For Hochberg, it will always be where he announced the first baseball game and the last football game. For countless kids, it will be the place where their father first took them to a game. For all of Washington, it will remain the place baseball abandoned and then, miraculously, the place to which it came home.

By Marc Fisher |  September 23, 2007; 7:38 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Nice peice, but why is everyone at the Washington Post ignoring that DC United will still be playing games this year, and probably into the future until they build their own stadium?

Posted by: But | September 23, 2007 8:14 AM

Fenty told you he expects United to move to a smaller soccer specific stadium? Really? Mind if we quote you to him?

Posted by: LiarLiarPantsOnFire | September 23, 2007 9:27 AM

Although time has overtaken it, it's really not true that RFK had nothing distinctive.

It was the first stadium with moveable seats that could be configured for baseball or football. And unlike the round, cookie-cutter stadiums that followed it, the contour of the upper deck -- following the foul lines -- was specifically designed for baseball, leading to the swaybacked roofline and the unusual hanging of the lights below the roofline.

And, by the way, it's not quite the last of the cookie-cutter stadiums. Shea Stadium will survive one more year.

It's time to move on, but let's give RFK its due.

Posted by: Meridian | September 23, 2007 9:42 AM

Way to handle some criticism of the fact that RFK is not dead yet by deleting all the comments made by DC United fans. Despite how much you hate us we will still be rocking the stands this coming Wednesday and Saturday.

Posted by: Tim | September 23, 2007 10:16 AM

It's my understanding that since the Redskins left, RFK has actually been much busier. When the Redskins played there, the stadium was used for 8 home games and unavailable for much else except maybe a half dozen summer rock concerts. DC United is using the RFK more than the Redskins ever did.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 23, 2007 11:31 AM

quote:> If you factor out the Beckham game, DC United average attendance this season is ~17,000 which I believe places us 3rd in the league. By contrast the Nationals attendance places them in 14th place of the 16 National League teams.

Posted by: Some basic facts | September 23, 2007 11:52 AM

How baseball-centric of you. Let's see, there was no professional baseball played at RFK for more than 30 years. During that time there were NFL playoff games leading to 3 Super Bowl championships and another Super Bowl game for the Redskins, MLS playoff games (including one of the greatest club matches ever played in the United States, NE v. DCUnited in October 2005) leading to 4 MLS Cup championships for DCUnited, participation as a host of the world's biggest sporting event, the 1994 World Cup, and host of countless international soccer matches (including one of my all time favorites, a memorable 3-3 draw between Germany and Brazil in 1993). Yet for all that history, you focus on a poorly supported, losing team in a declining, drug riddled sport that left Washington for dead to conjure up memories of a stadium that is supposedly "closing" when the new, poorly supported losing baseball team moves to it's s white elephant tax payer rip-off of a stadium next year. In fact, given that primary tenants DCUnited actually WIN games on a regular basis, it seems very realistic that RFK will be a host for key games numerous times in the next few years, including the MLS Championship game this coming November. Thank God those appalling infield areas will be fully grown back in by then, since we know that Nationals have no use for a field in October.

BTW, 2007 average attendance: Nationals 24,013, lowest since franchise came to Washington. DC United 21,617 highest since franchise came to Washington.

Posted by: John | September 23, 2007 12:10 PM

All of this "final game" hype is being perpetrated by the DC S&E Commission and the Nats just to sell tickets. Unfortunately the Post is an accomplice. The stadium will remain for DC United matches, and those who will miss the stadium for reasons of nostalgia will be welcomed by DC United fans to watch a match with us.

Posted by: I-270, Exit 1 | September 23, 2007 12:14 PM

Yes baseball is leaving RFK. But I think RFK was always going to be the Nationals temporary home. It was never going to be there permenant home. So unless RFK is being torn down next week, its not a goodbye to the stadium. Or if it is what's the scoop on a new stadium for DC United?

Posted by: M | September 23, 2007 12:32 PM

"...but, like today's D.C. United soccer squad, struggled to attract fans."
What were average attendances for MLB and the NFL in their first 15 years?

MLB wasn't drawing an average over 20k till the end of WWII, more than 50 years after the league started.

Finding definitive records for the NFL is harder, but it looks like it took them about 15-20 years to average more thank 20k as well.

If you noticed, the majority of the new Soccer Specific Stadiums are only designed to hold around 20k. Yes, United has a higher goal for theirs, but a team can be profitable with "such paltry attendance".

Posted by: AlecW81 | September 23, 2007 12:42 PM

Granted that the 21,617 average attendance that John posted includes the Beckham match, but it also includes a host of weeknight games that showcase United's drawing power in the area. Fenty has to be a real moron and shortsighted not to take this franchise into account as a signature part of the District.

Posted by: Chico | September 23, 2007 12:51 PM

Fudging facts and slanting stories are clearly the reason Fisher writes opinion columns rather than being an actual journalist, with the attendant responsibility to the truth.

Posted by: viv | September 23, 2007 1:08 PM

Nothing ever made concrete move as did those Monday night football games, Redskins vs Dallas or Saint Louis Cardinals during the Allen era--it had to be experienced first hand. Soccer or baseball will never approach that intensity level, never has, never will. Thanks for the memories.

Posted by: George | September 23, 2007 1:30 PM

Actually George, among the numerous soccer matches that not only matched but surpassed the intensity level was MLS Cup '97 where 57,000 fans jammed RFK in a driving rain storm to rock the house louder than it's ever been rocked. If DC United makes it to this years final you should consider buying a ticket so you can see for yourself.

Posted by: ShouldveBeenThere | September 23, 2007 1:40 PM


Don't you have something read your articles before you publish them?

I know circulation is down, but a "big city daily" such as the Washington Post ought to have a couple fact checkers/editors to keep dewy eyed columnists grounded.

Posted by: Tommie | September 23, 2007 1:54 PM

Perhaps now that the infield will be gone, the U.S. National team will consider playing at RFK again. It'll take about three USMNT matches to equal the attendance of half a season of a piss-poor baseball team.

Posted by: UVA to RFK | September 23, 2007 1:54 PM

I was there in 1971, when the Senators led the Yankees 7-5 in the ninth inning of the final game. Our seats were about 10-15 rows behind the Senator's dugout. We had plans to "steal," for real, first base, but all I ended up with were about 20 paperback copies of Ted Williams "My Turn at Bat," which the fans were tossing onto the field.

I was there in 1996, and got my piece of turf. It is in my basement now. Ha ha. The funny thing I remember is Jerry Jones getting pelted with ice when making is way through our aisle to the field.

I certainly do miss RFK's pre-greed spaciousness, the luxurious legroom, friendly ushers etc. I remember as a kid meeting the Senators on the field for picture day.

During the 60's, we attended Skins games after church. Almost everyone was well dressed, and we seem to become friends with the people in our section. The same people showed up every game!

Saw Frank Howard hit a home run in the all-star game in '69. Also met Roy Campanella in the stadium that day. (I think the all-star game was originally to be played at night, but was postponed until the next day because of rain.)

During the 70's and 80's, it was fun meeting old DC chums at the games. You could easily walk to their sections for a chat, while still watching the game.

My mom used to drop us off and pick us up at the front gate for Senator games! Later, when we drove, getting to and from the stadium was a breeze. We could leave our house at 12:45 and be in the stadium by kickoff!

I will not visit the new stadium, and I will no longer attend Skins games. (No one in our family wants to go anymore - tickets seem to go unused very often) Something changed that has been forever lost. Now, it has become a chore to both attend and travel to and from games at these new stadiums.

Also, I hate the constantly broadcast loud music and commercials. Hate it!

This truly is goodbye for me.

Posted by: johng1 | September 23, 2007 2:29 PM

Wow John, excellent post.
I hear RFK will remain this true Mr. Fisher????
You might want to jump on the DC United bandwagon early before you get left behind like the other old coots, Kornheiser and Boswell.
On second thought, NAH, we don't need you. We're doing just fine with Goff!!!

Posted by: DC in Tennessee | September 23, 2007 2:38 PM

What a disrespectful blow to the dedicated soccer fans that pile into the stadium for every home game. At least acknowledging our existence would be appreciated in any future articles.

Posted by: Rex | September 23, 2007 2:43 PM

One more memory that I will bring with me to my grave. After the Skins beat Dallas for the '72 NFC championship, as we drove from the stadium, local residents lined the streets for blocks and blocks as if we were in our own Roman victory parade. That was so fun I can't keep from smiling as I type this.

Posted by: johng1 | September 23, 2007 2:50 PM

Yet another factually inaccurate piece by Marc Fisher.

DC United struggling to attract fans? The team has reigned as one of the top draws in MLS for years, with higher attendance than the Caps (not saying much...) and closing in on the Wizards. If you were to look at the number of seats filled at RFK for baseball versus soccer, you could make the case that DC United is almost as good a draw as the Nats.

Like I said, typical Marc Fisher half-truths to further a story, whether they are accurate or not.

Posted by: DC Mike | September 23, 2007 2:57 PM

Why miss the chance to point out that RFK will be hosting this year's MLS championship in November? See you there Marc.

Posted by: Paul | September 23, 2007 3:45 PM

Goodness, soccer fans are crybabies. God forbid anyone say anything negative about their beloved sport. Being third in the MLS in attendance is like finishing 30th in a NASCAR race, i.e., not at all impressive.

And every story I've read in the Post never fails to mention that RFK will still be used for United games. Boswell mentioned it earlier this week in his goodbye-to-RFK column, and Solomon did so today. There's some pretty selective reading going on by United fans, who say the Post is ignoring their little-cared-about team. I'd say the Post is giving United far more coverage than it deserves, considering its tiny fan base.

Posted by: Waaaaah! | September 23, 2007 5:48 PM

Baseball is a declining sport mostly enjoyed by rich old white men pining for the long-gone days of their youth. Marc can wax eloquent on his fuddy-duddy sport until he's blue in the face, but that doesn't change the fact that pro baseball is on the fast track to irrelevant oblivion. Make no mistake, pro baseball will be "abandoning" Washington again sooner rather than later, leaving tax-payers holding a bag full of very expensive, baseball-specific stadium. Keep blithering though, Marc, if it makes you feel any better.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 23, 2007 6:19 PM

It seems some people are a little scared of DC United. It's foreign to them; maybe they don't want to see soccer succeed. That would explain why you see articles with parallels made between the Diplomats and DC United, wishfully thinking that the MLS too is going to fold. Forget about Kornheiser and Fischer, and go with Wilbon and Wise. I hope Fenty understands a good deal when he sees one, and he makes a deal on a soccer-specific stadium.

Posted by: Bob | September 23, 2007 6:38 PM

RFK was not just a sports arena. I remember going there for concerts -- all night concerts -- with my brothers and cousins. It was a time (about 35 years ago) when we could walk home at 4:00 in the morning leaving behind the concert still going on. We walked down to Benning Road to H Street to North Capitol Street to home. It was a time when DC's streets were peaceful and quiet in the early morning hours no gangs, no gunshots, no drug wars. And I certainly cannot forget the high school football games played there -- similar to a pro bowl. I believe they were called East-West games. The time to say good-bye to RFK may be drawing near, but it has served DC well.

Posted by: Luv2Laff | September 23, 2007 6:51 PM

Very many good times at that stadium in the 1960's. I will miss it.

Posted by: Former Fan | September 23, 2007 7:11 PM


I'm not an MLS regular, having last gone to a game in 2000 (along with the 1994 men's and 1999 women's World Cups), but you have to put MLS's attendance in proper perspective.

That means comparing MLS attendance to that of the other professional soccer leagues around the world.

Take a look at this page:

Judging by these numbers, MLS is doing just fine. Average attendance was 8th in 2006 (15,108), behind the German Bundesliga (40,745), the English Premier League (33,864), Spain's La Liga (29,029), Italy's Serie A (21,698), France's Ligue 1 (21,576), the Dutch Eredivise (16,805), and Scotland's Premier League (16,147).

With Beckham in 2007, MLS surely surpassed the Dutch and Scottish leagues, and perhaps even Italy and France.

Posted by: Eric | September 23, 2007 7:39 PM

message to john: is there some war between baseball and soccer in DC that i missed? the point of fisher's post is that baseball is leaving RFK for good, and today was the last game to see it. let's root for the home team, OK buddy?

Posted by: Union Station | September 23, 2007 7:43 PM

Yes, there is a war. And when the post is titled "Goodbye RFK," as if it were being demolished tomorrow, Fisher is purposely avoiding the fact that a pretty good local team still plays there.

Posted by: UVA to RFK | September 23, 2007 8:03 PM

Yes, there is a war. And when the post is titled "Goodbye RFK," as if it were being demolished tomorrow, Fisher is purposely avoiding the fact that a pretty good local team still plays there.

Posted by: UVA to RFK | September 23, 2007 8:03 PM

Although some baseball fans may be wistful about how the NFL has become much more popular as a sport, most of us don't lose sleep over it. Most Nats fans are also Redskins fans.

However, it seems that many D.C. United fans are genuinely resentful that most American sports fans don't care for their sport as much as they do. Does it really matter? Unlike the North American Soccer League, MLS is solvent and D.C. United is unlikely to leave the Washington area, although it is possible they could be forced to move to the Maryland or Virginia suburbs.

Just enjoy D.C. United and maybe take in a Nats, 'Skins, 'Zards, or Caps game if you get the chance. If soccer fans cannot bring themselves to enjoy any sport other than soccer, they should not criticize fans of other sports who do not care to go to D.C. United games.

Edward J. Cunningham
Rockville, MD

Posted by: Edward J. Cunningham | September 23, 2007 8:06 PM

hmmmm, so what's a DC baseball AND DC soccer fan to do? take zoloft? (wait, wrong mental case . . .)

Posted by: Union Station | September 23, 2007 8:08 PM

Usually after this many posts, Fisher pipes in and whines. I guess the facts about DCU are too much to handle.

Baseball is dying, and even the fans find that it is getting more and more boring as they pump in more ads between innings.

Posted by: Nogra Rover | September 23, 2007 8:21 PM

"hmmmm, so what's a DC baseball AND DC soccer fan to do? take zoloft? (wait, wrong mental case . . .)"

Be thankful you can still see some games at RFK for a while, and hope a deal is made that enables United to remain in the District. Ultimately, the D.C. City Council agreed to build the new baseball stadium because they were afraid of being blamed for driving away major league baseball. The United fans who are registered voters in D.C. need to make themselves be heard. Fenty is a smart man, and he has proven to be flexible as far as sports go.

Anyway, when D.C. United's final game at RFK finally comes, I hope D.C. United comes up with a way to honor the very distinguished history of soccer in Washington, D.C. I also hope this event will receive the coverage it deserves.

Edward J. Cunningham
Rockville, MD

Posted by: Edward J. Cunningham | September 23, 2007 8:28 PM

Considering that the Nats drew just under 2 million for the past season, and D.C. United draws roughly 20,000 for just 16 home games a year, it's clear MLS has a long way to go to be considered major.

Soccer fans should quit worrying about how other people perceive their games and just enjoy them, since it's clearly the AA equivalent of soccer worldwide, and a feeder league for European Leagues. MLS Cups are nice, but the equivalent of winning a minor-league championship until they truly upgrade play in the league with more than brief Beckham appearances.

The reality is that despite being one of the MLS' best markets, United lags behind in perception behind all four local pro franchises and several college programs. It would take a major upgrade in the league play to think of approaching that realm in the eye of mainstream sports fans.

Posted by: Reality Check | September 23, 2007 9:46 PM

"The reality is that despite being one of the MLS' best markets, United lags behind in perception behind all four local pro franchises and several college programs. It would take a major upgrade in the league play to think of approaching that realm in the eye of mainstream sports fans."

I have to disagree with Reality Check somewhat. I don't think that the reason DCU lags behind the other sports is that MLS is a double A sports league. Real Madrid or Manchester United could play their games at RFK or even FedEx Field showcasing the best soccer in the world---and you'd still have the same problem. Most American sports fans do not care about soccer, no matter HOW good it is. The problem isn't the quality of play, but rather the sport itself and the tastes of American sports fans.

Edward J. Cunningham
Rockville, MD

Posted by: Edward J. Cunningham | September 23, 2007 10:10 PM

As an avid DC United fan and season ticket holder, I believe I speak for all fellow fans by saying that we deserve more respect for the sport of professional soccer and our home team - the most successful in the entire league. Our home games have fantastic ambiance; try attending one if you have any doubt, Mr. Fisher.

Posted by: andy in capitol hill | September 23, 2007 10:11 PM

Will be at Estadio RFK for DC United. Saw some good baseball games (still have my CCCP hat when the Soviet baseball team played GWU mens team back in 1990). Was at the game today, booed Fenty. GIVE UNITED A HOME. Go Nats!

Posted by: gallegoscot | September 23, 2007 10:57 PM

Petition to Fenty to support for DC United Stadium at Poplar Point . Couldn't hurt?

or more of this...

Posted by: gallegoscot | September 23, 2007 11:09 PM

My, my, how the fans of the "Beautiful Game" do whine. But what are they whining about? Can't be for lack of coverage, can it? I recall seeing DC United mentioned frequently as the remaining tenant of RFK. I also recall seeing frequent articles about DCU in local sports pages. Could it be because DCU rarely, if ever gets the top story? Cry babies

Let the record show that RFK, DC Stadium to those of us who've been here awhile, was built as a multipurpose stadium for baseball and American football. Those who label baseball as a dying game, beloved only by old farts, should ask themselves whether there would even be an MLS team in Washington if RFK --initially built for the second generation Washington Senators --did not exist.

If fans of Futball whine because the DCU rarely, if ever gets top coverage in the sports page of the Post, well, take it from hockey fans like me: DEAL WITH IT. Soccer, like hockey, was, is and will forever be a secondary sport in the US. If you DCU fans want front page coverage for Futball, move to another country. As for me, I find that a Futball game is an excellent remedy for insomnia.

Posted by: Mister Methane | September 23, 2007 11:16 PM

Here's a voice of clarity... I hope, at least.

Regardless of whether you like soccer or not, or whether you think baseball is a dying old-man sport or not - there is one factually wrong statement in Fisher's post. DCU has NOT struggled to fill seats at RFK. I'd be dollars that THAT is what has the soccer fans pissed off - that there is an assumption that DCU can't fill the stadium. In all honesty, they are in the upper echelon in their sport, unlike the Nats, who are an attendance disaster.

So before everyone gets all pissy about it - let's just realize that ultimately this isn't a soccer v baseball fight, this is a smart sports fan v Marc Fisher fight.

Posted by: DC Mike | September 23, 2007 11:29 PM

Mister Methane,

Considering MLS works on a 2 mil. salary budget and can't even convince most soccer junkies its worthwhile I would hedge my bets on this league becoming a much bigger animal. Which is just fine.

Let me tell if your a hockey fan though. Try the "Ralph" in Grand Forks preferably on a weekend when Wisconsin or Minnesota comes to town. Bar none the sweatest sports stadium on the planet. Nothing in North America comes even close.

And Fisher is clueless of the sports landscape in his own town.

Posted by: Mr.Bill north dakota DC fan | September 24, 2007 12:10 AM

I forgot how whiney American soccer fans are. I guess its because I forgot there was even a soccer team here until Beck came to town.

Whine away United fans, you're chasing away prospective fans with every single post you make. I would NEVER go to a United game after reading all this crying and badmouthing of baseball. Can't you just be confident enough in your own sport? To criticize either sport is pretty dumb, its a matter of personal taste.

Just accept that MLS is perceived worldwide to be a lower level of talent than the leagues overseas, period. Accept that Americans will NEVER promote soccer to "major" sport level. Enjoy your soccer, but stop crying no fair because not everyone loves your sport. So petty...

Posted by: Will never be a United fan, now | September 24, 2007 12:32 AM

"DCU has NOT struggled to fill seats at RFK."

Until DCU fans can fill more than half the stadium on a daily basis, and until there aren't acres of empty seats at EVERY DCU game, you just look like an idiot for writing that. I would call a team playing in a stadium that's 60 percent empty "struggling to fill seats." So yes, get your tiny soccer-only stadium, and they no longer will be struggling to fill seats. But until then, just stop with the soccer-is-a-great-draw BS.

Again, soccer fans are the biggest whiners on Earth (they emulate the ever-diving soccer players).

Posted by: Waaaaah! | September 24, 2007 12:50 AM

1. Soccer has a genuine fan base in DC and Fenty MUST support a stadium in Ward 8.
2. Baseball lost me when they failed to deal with the drug abuse

Posted by: LM | September 24, 2007 8:03 AM

If the attendance stats John quoted above are true (2007 average attendance: Nationals 24,013 and DC United 21,617, baseball fans need to check themselves on their criticism of DC United's ability to fill RFK. Apparently, a second-tier sport supposedly considered irrelevant by most Americans is drawing nearly as many fans to each game as the local "mainstream" baseball franchise. In that context, I'd say the Nats' paltry draw is much more of a concern than DC United's!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 24, 2007 9:29 AM

Hmmm 81 home games 16 home games. Bit of a difference. I like DC United and go to a few games but the tone of the soccer whinners is really a turn off. You guys need to drop the inferiority complex and be a little more confidant in yourselves. Or just grow up.

Posted by: Hillnat | September 24, 2007 9:50 AM

Anyone want to take a guess at what DC United would need to pull in as far as attendance goes to satisfy Fisher? Would they have to sell out each match? Perhaps 40K per game?

It is fascinating to see American media types spin things just to "prove" their own highly-biased observations. We all know Fisher hates soccer, so he feels the need to say United struggles at the gate. Of course, he never talks about the Nationals over-inflating attendance figures, etc. In addition, people talk about 81 games vs 16 games. Yes, you are right, but let's not forget how much baseball players makes in comparison to soccer players. You better pull in quality numbers at the gate so you can pay your team.

Posted by: Hoost | September 24, 2007 10:41 AM

Geez, people - I *like* soccer, but this pack of whiners doesn't inspire me to go to games. I mean, is this what the crowds are like?

Posted by: hh | September 24, 2007 10:57 AM

Actually, most soccer fans are a lot of fun and the games are a joy to watch.

This RFK/Nats issue hits a nerve, that's all. As a United fan, I understand why Fisher's take is so irksome and why some of our responses seem so vitriloic.

If you ever attend a United game, you'd see a sizable, passionate crowd of knowledgable fans suporting their team. And not just the supporters clubs (i.e. Barra Brava, el Norte, Screaming Eagles). The games are usually entertaining, despite the fact that yes, the team does not regularly sell out RFK. But neither did the Nats (more on why United fans seem to be "competing" with the Nats in a moment). Most leading division pro soccer teams in the world only seat 20,000 to 25,000 person stadiums, while only the superclubs of Europe and S. America have stadii over 60,000. So, United is drawing quite nicely. Sure, they're not in the Big 3 sports here... but that's not the point.

However, Fisher's take is that the conclusion of the Nats' stay is an "end of an era" for RFK as a whole, as opposed to merely the conclusion of the Nats' short and always temporary stay. He makes RFK sound ready for the wrecking ball with United booted to the street, based on Fenty's statements and his notions that United "strugg[les] to attract fans" and that United is (ominously) now RFK's "only tenant" with a lease that "expires in December."

The irksome part is the missing backstory. Mayor Fenty is playing hardball (excuse the pun) with United's ownership about a long planned move to Poplar Point, a move supported by many in the local community and Councilman Barry. Fenty has stopped negotiating, realizg he can put the screws to United since its lease ends in December and now bigger and better(?) developers are sniffing around Poplar Point promising to put up more high-end office space and condos (tax base anyone?). So, Fenty might force United out while scoring politcal points (cutting the legs out from under Barry) and getting more real estate devlopers in his pocket. Its easier for him to do this if United is portrayed as "struggling" and a minor, almost nuissance, tenant. When in fact, United is a vibrant (albeit small - by football and baseball standards) franchise with strong ties to the community that is drawing and performing well. But, the District elders seem ready to bow down to baseball and offer them City treasure while driving a local gem to the 'burbs.

I'm no fan of city welfare for sports stadiums in general, but the Nats are getting a sweeter than deserved deal while United may (maybe not) get the shaft.

To my baseball loving friends, enjoy your new home but realize a vibrant team will still play in RFK once you're gone. Too bad much or our local press refuses to characterize it this way.

Posted by: Voice of Reason | September 24, 2007 11:46 AM

I want to pull the plunger.

Posted by: Jon | September 24, 2007 12:02 PM

You all have been writing a lot of nothing. I love the Nats, I love United, however, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that both teams do have attendance issues. United may be a top draw in the league, because the other teams are having an even tougher time drawing fans.

"Goodbye RFK" was about saying goodbye to its history more so on the baseball side. United may only be playing their a few more years tops as they are trying to get a new stadium. So rather then spending time on a blog arguing which DC team has lower attendance, spend that time getting people to come see the exciting soccer of DC United, and help the campaign for a new stadium

Posted by: Brian | September 24, 2007 12:20 PM

But without a new lease the vibrant team will not be playing at RFK so until or if things change Fisher is right that in a few months RFK wont have a tenant.

It also seems to me that if thats all European teams can draw maybe soccer isnt that popular after all. I had visions of the huge stadiums packed with fans and on fire but if those leagues are comparable to MLS that makes me wonder.

Posted by: Hillnat | September 24, 2007 12:22 PM

"You all have been writing a lot of nothing."

Heh. Guilty as charged.

Isn't that the point of blogs???

Posted by: Voice of Reason | September 24, 2007 12:22 PM

"It also seems to me that if thats all European teams can draw maybe soccer isn't that popular after all."

Actually, its probably more popular than any of us realize. To be fair, major Europoean cities often have many soccer teams that draw at the level I mentioned. A city like London probably has something like 9 teams at least (by my rough count) that draw over 20,000 consistently, and many of them are in the 40,000 plus range. Imagine if cities like DC/New York/Chicago only had one type of pro sport, but at different levels of play. Think how many football teams there are in a given U.S. area if you look at it by level (i.e. pro, college, semi-pro, Arena, high school, etc.), and you have some idea how pervasive soccer is in Europe and S. America. So yeah, it is small fry here by comparison. But, it exists and is a solid member of the sporting landscape.

Back to work!

Posted by: Voice of Reason | September 24, 2007 12:35 PM

A city like London probably has something like 9 teams at least (by my rough count) that draw over 20,000 consistently

Point taken and i dont want to go back to work.

Posted by: Hillnat | September 24, 2007 12:49 PM

I guess I'm weird -- I like watching BOTH baseball and soccer. And RFK is just fine for me as a venue for BOTH sports, although it'll be nice to not have that funky sod over the infield for soccer games and sod over the bouncing-stands track for baseball games.

Posted by: Juan-John | September 24, 2007 1:17 PM

And oh yeah -- before you hockey fans bemoan your lack of attendance in recent years, at least you have the comfort of knowing your sport draws more people than outdoor pro lacrosse! :-)

Posted by: Juan-John | September 24, 2007 1:59 PM

As a soccer (and baseball, and hockey, and football....) fan there are a couple of issues.

1. Is Mr. Fisher misrepresenting DC United attendance. MLS has modest goals, and (as evidenced above) worldwide numbers tend to average closer to NBA and NHL numbers. So realistically United is doing OK at the gate.

2. It really is about the Nats saying goodbye to their TEMPORARY home. But Mr. Fisher talks about it being the last time that he'll get to step foot in RFK. I'm not upset that he may never go to a United game, but he helps perpetuate the illusion that nothing else will ever happen there: soccer games, concerts, high school football, etc. The possibilities for some really great events at RFK still remain. It's still a valuable resource for the city, let's not publicly bury it before we need to.

Posted by: Kim | September 24, 2007 3:10 PM

Hey Fisher

You still write like crap. I still can't wait to run into you. We'll talk about the last time you mentioned me in your column, Michigan style. I promise!

Jim Clarke
2005-2006 Nationals PA announcer.

Posted by: Jim Clarke | September 24, 2007 4:13 PM

Tear down RFK, put in a big box retailer or two (Wal-Mart?) and restaurants so DC residents on that side of town can get the retail they'd probably like to have easy access to, big box retailers a killer location with lots of parking, and in exchange, leverage the deal so that a new soccer centric stadium is built there too. Everybody happy.

Posted by: Steve in Jersey | September 24, 2007 4:27 PM

I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan but I sure will miss RFK...The noise and the friendly and not so friendly bantering that went on there during a football game against the Cowboys..What a great stadium that was because the place would surely rock.

Posted by: Jan Lee | September 24, 2007 9:06 PM

one thing that i miss about those old cookie cutters, busch especally, that great breezway on the top, on a hot summer day getting that river air off the missippi was a great way to cool off when the sun was beating down on ya.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 24, 2007 9:43 PM

I'll always remember RFK as the site of my very first concert, Pink Floyd, in June of 1988. What a spectacle! My dad took me, and we had nice seats. I recall an enormous range of scents (Marlboro Reds, beer, pizza, and something I didn't then recognize), and the audience whooping and hollering everytime "Pink Floyd" flashed across the screen. My second and final RFK experience was in July of 1994. It was another Pink Floyd concert. I will miss RFK, despite having only been there twice. I'll miss the way it lights up the sky of D.C, visible for miles and miles.

Posted by: John Grunwell | September 25, 2007 9:25 AM

Here are people who WILL be saying goodbye not only to RFK but to baseball: the street vendors who provide low-price food and water outside the stadium.

I asked one on Sunday whether they'll be making the move to the new ballpark, and she told me they won't be allowed. No big surprise there, and the implication is they will try to ban outside food.

Marc, THAT is a story that might be worth reporting.

Posted by: Meridian | September 25, 2007 9:47 AM

Hey Clarke. Fisher is a much better writer then you were an announcer. Clam up and go away.

Posted by: Hillnat | September 25, 2007 2:46 PM

Hey Hillnat
You're another coward who hides behind a keyboard. Notice, I've got enough guts to use my name. Last time I looked, free speech was still a right of all Americans.
By the way, it's "than", not "then". Now you go away!

Jim Clarke
2005-2006 Nationals PA Announcer

Posted by: Jim Clarke | September 25, 2007 5:02 PM

I only hope that the Nationals will leave "Sweet Caroline" behind at RFK and never play it in the new park. I hate that damn Boston song (it's now associated with the Red Sox, beloved team of all the Ivy League yuppies we locals have to work for)!

Posted by: Vincent | September 26, 2007 9:30 AM

So you can spell. Too bad you couldnt pick up a double switch. Cant believe you are still so bitter. Get off of Fisher and me and work on your skills. Or do you just want to fight and teach me a lesson? You must be a real treat to be around.

Posted by: Hillnat | September 26, 2007 1:27 PM

Hey Jim, last year you said you might return to the Nats board and dish the dirt about the front office under MLB and the Lerners. Now that a year has passed, how about some info, I'd love to hear an insiders perspective.

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | September 26, 2007 1:57 PM

Hey Marc.

There were over 25,000 people at RFK tonight for a sporting event.

There were over 21,000 people there on Wednesday night.

Makes your obituary to RFK seem kind of foolish and shortsighted, doesn't it?

Posted by: Mike | September 30, 2007 2:00 AM

Biggest difference:

Baseball allows drug addicts and 'roid feinds to play. Football (soccer) does not.

Gimme a call when baseball can effectively deal with the drugs in the sport and i might come back to it. Until then, let your kids playing pee-wee baseball that if they dream in playing pro-baseball, they better start juicing.

Seems like baseball fans are a bit sensitive and a bit of cry babies when it comes to any criticism to their sport, no? And deal with it, football (soccer) aint going anywhere, see any pee-wee football (soccer) game or at any level over the weekend, those kids have a place to go, MLS, if they decide to go pro --- oh yeah, and they dont have to learn how to fill up syringes and get a chemistry degree in order to play at high levels, unlike say . . . BASEBALL.

Posted by: Vic | September 30, 2007 11:28 AM

Mr. Fisher
you are a freaking idiot!! you got nothing else to write. I remember reading this article a few weeks ago, and you still writing about the closing of RFK, can you find something else to write??

Marc Fisher
a cold splash of a writer's block, with a side of stupidity

Posted by: koolcaio | November 27, 2007 10:41 PM

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