Will Fenty Let Prince George's Take D.C. United?
In this sorry economy, no one is going to put up a couple of hundred million for a new soccer stadium right now. But the contest for the future of D.C. United is nonetheless on, and Prince George's County yesterday delivered a sharp smack to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, a warning that if the District doesn't move with some alacrity, the region's pro soccer team could well follow the path the Washington Redskins traveled a decade ago.
For months, Fenty issued only the vaguest of statements about wanting to keep the soccer team in the city. When he finally picked a developer for Poplar Point, the national park along the Anacostia River in Southeast where United owner Victor MacFarlane wanted to build a mixed-use complex including a soccer stadium, Fenty excluded MacFarlane from the deal. If a project does proceed there, it's not clear who would pay for a stadium, and given the city's precarious finances, it's by no means certain that the D.C. Council would accept Fenty's proposal that the city front the money.
Yesterday's release of a study conducted for the Maryland Stadium Authority may create some urgency for Fenty. The $75,000 study, in the form of a 99-page report surveying the appetite for and potential benefits of a stadium, envisions a 24,000-27,000-seat stadium at or near a Metro station somewhere near the Beltway in Prince George's.
The study doesn't get specific about exactly where to put the stadium, but it does make the case for benefits to the county that a United stadium could provide, including about 1,000 jobs and $25 million to $30 million a year in economic returns. But those estimates are based on a very optimistic assessment of how busy a soccer stadium might be. The study envisions somewhere between 54 and 63 events a year, assuming that the park would be home not only to United, but to a women's soccer team, a pro lacrosse team, and various college and high school sports events, as well as some concerts and other non-sport uses.
But the experience of other new soccer-specific stadiums around the country gives cause for skepticism about those numbers. In the Denver area, a new suburban soccer stadium paid for by the government (which would be repaid from sales tax receipts, in a deal similar to Washington's arrangement with the Nationals) had only 23 events in its first year--22 soccer games and a Kenny Chesney concert. In Toronto, a new urban soccer stadium attracted some rugby and cricket matches, but also drew only one concert.
Still, the prospects for strong attendance at a Prince George's soccer stadium are good. Major League Soccer games now draw about the same numbers as the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association, although of course those indoor sports are severely limited by the capacity of their arenas. MLS teams drew an average of 17,000 fans per game last season, compared to 33,000 for Major League Baseball. In Washington, average attendance per game last year was 24,000 for the Nationals, 21,000 for United, 17,000 for the Wizards, and 14,000 for the Capitals. The Redskins, of course, were off the charts, with an average attendance around that of all four other teams combined.
Would soccer fans go to Prince George's? The study doesn't provide much meat on that question, but a survey of United fans did raise some questions. In the survey, 57 percent of those responding were Virginians and 27 percent were Marylanders, and that sample said they would be significantly less likely to travel to games in Prince George's than they are to attend games at RFK Stadium in the District. In addition, a separate survey of current sponsors of United found some worry about Prince George's reputation, because of its troubled local government, its demographic mix, and its crime level.
"Some groups we met with mentioned that there is a perception that Prince George's County may not be as safe relative to other surrounding areas," the study says.
Pro soccer draws the highest percentage of Hispanic fans of any sport in the country, and the sport has an unusually affluent fan base. Prince George's lags some parts of the region in both of those categories. D.C. United's largest collection of fans is in Montgomery County, according to the study.
About 30 percent of United fans are Hispanic, the team told the consulting group that put together the study. Prince George's population is 12 percent Hispanic, exactly the same proportion as in the Washington region as a whole. That's well below the U.S. average of 15 percent.
Soccer's new stadiums around the country are popping up both in suburban settings such as the Redskins' home and in urban neighborhoods such as the Nationals' new park. The two choices present different economic models. The suburban stadiums are often surrounded by additional soccer fields that can be used by youth teams--a way to build support for the team by expanding the sport's footprint in the region. The urban stadiums are generally pitched as economic development tools, with mixed-use complexes seeking to lure restaurants, retail and office developers. The Prince George's model might turn out to be a hybrid, as the county is apparently not interested in building a soccerplex of the sort that Montgomery County has. Rather, Prince George's is looking at trying to surround a stadium with the kind of retail-entertainment mix that is planned for the area around Nationals Park.
Whether that would work in a suburban setting, especially in economically lagging Prince George's, is by no means clear. After all, the Redskins' stadium has generated little, if any, ancillary development.
But of course soccer teams play many more games per year than do football teams. Which gets back to the central question about soccer stadiums: Are they busy enough to support eateries, bars and other year-round businesses? The Maryland study does not make a persuasive case on that point, but the prospect of stealing a team away from the District may be enough to overcome that weakness. At least, that's what team officials are hoping Adrian Fenty will conclude. There's nothing the team would love more than a city vs. suburb competition for its presence.
By Marc Fisher |
September 24, 2008; 8:55 AM ET
Previous: Spend Millions To Let Teens Sleep Later? | Next: AIG Still Says It Knows How To "Avoid Disaster Altogether"
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: EricS | September 24, 2008 9:42 AM
Posted by: JkR | September 24, 2008 10:09 AM
Posted by: Kev | September 24, 2008 10:50 AM
Posted by: DC Voter | September 24, 2008 11:48 AM
Posted by: Giannicolus Jones | September 24, 2008 12:23 PM
Posted by: Austin | September 24, 2008 1:08 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | September 24, 2008 1:12 PM
Posted by: getirdun | September 24, 2008 1:29 PM
Posted by: VamosUnited | September 24, 2008 2:13 PM
Posted by: Slanted Coverage | September 24, 2008 2:28 PM
Posted by: Is it a park, or is it just Federal land? | September 24, 2008 2:44 PM
Posted by: The AMT | September 24, 2008 4:33 PM
Posted by: CW | September 24, 2008 4:47 PM
Posted by: Crazy Huey | September 24, 2008 5:36 PM
Posted by: No more stadiums, please! | September 24, 2008 8:42 PM
Posted by: seahawkdad | September 24, 2008 9:10 PM
Posted by: Jock | September 24, 2008 10:07 PM
Posted by: BrooklandLvr | September 25, 2008 9:02 AM
Posted by: Chris | September 25, 2008 1:28 PM
Posted by: Richard | September 25, 2008 5:04 PM
Posted by: Super White Boy | September 25, 2008 9:50 PM
Posted by: Giannicolus Jones | September 26, 2008 7:51 AM
Posted by: Chris | September 26, 2008 10:39 AM
Posted by: KevinMc | September 30, 2008 4:39 PM
Posted by: Coach | September 30, 2008 9:15 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.