24 July 2007

The Stadium Deal is Not Dead, and DC United is Not Moving (Yet)

I want to revisit the stadium debate, because I think that there's a lot of stuff people are assuming that may not be factual. I think the impulse is to believe that the stadium negotiations are dead in all but name, but it isn't the case. I've tried to get someone at DC United to go on record with me, but they're declining public comment. However, I was able to learn that things are not as bleak as they look for keeping DC United in DC. Let's ask the typical three questions we like to use around here: "What do we know? What do we think? What does it mean?"

In addition to the articles we linked yesterday, The Examiner contained this quote:

“Our position is pretty clear: We want to be in the District. We want to be in Ward 8 at Poplar Point,” Payne said. “Until somebody tells us no, that the district doesn’t want us here, we’re going to continue down the path that we’re going down.”
That matches with the information I'm getting. D.C. United is, as far as I know, not abandoning the Poplar Point plan, nor is the city. While Nakamura characterized the negotiations as stalled, the word is that communications are still open between DCU and the mayor's office, and there is still a sense that a stadium deal could happen. That's all pretty factual at this point.

Now, that's all that I know for sure, but let's venture into the realm of conjecture. First, I get the sense that United and MacFarlane's people were somewhat blindsided by the Nakamura article. Nakamura specifically cites government sources on anonymity. This story did not come out of DC United's management, it came from the District, and without knowing who the sources are, we also don't know if they might have their own agendas. Which is fine, but is at least something to keep in mind. Still, let's take everything at face value. Is there a way to read things that isn't the doom and gloom so many fans feel? Sure there is, and I don't think you'd be a Pollyanna to read things in that light.

The city wants to look at alternative proposals. While United may be disappointed in this (and I haven't asked them about that) I am not. Maybe Mayor Williams was willing to just cut a deal with United, but Mayor Fenty is not, and a fan of good government should applaud that willingness. Now, Nakamura writes that "A soccer stadium still could be part of the mix but is not a top priority, the sources said." Okay, this again should not taken as a surprise. If the DC Government is looking at alternative bids, then giving any sort of advance endorsement to any proposal would make the examination process meaningless. In fact, worse than that, it might open the government up to charges that the examination process was a sham and unfair, and who knows about potential litigation in that scenario? No, the DC government must look at each proposal and give each proposal the chance to explain why it is the best value for the city and the residents of Ward 8.

So right now, the city is in a situation where it can't seriously advance negotiations on any proposal, especially the MacFarlane proposal. So negotiations may be "stalled," but they'd have to be equally stalled for all parties for the proposal process to be in any manner considered fair. And make no mistake, United is still part of that proposal process.

So what does it mean? It means that if United wants a stadium in Poplar Point, they have to advance a proposal that provides the best value for the city. That doesn't necessarily mean cheapest, or the one that creates the most revenue. Issues of risk in delivering and fairness to the residents of Ward 8 also have value, and I think United's proposal would excel in those areas. However, they have to make the case.

If United can't make that case, or if the District ultimately decides to go elsewhere, then United will have to move somewhere else. That's simple. DC United, as successful and attended as it is, is simply not profitable right now. Their overhead for rent is too high, and their revenue streams are compromised by the RFK deal. The phrase "threatening" to leave the city is overblown. United needs to do something to become financially viable, and if the District doesn't have an option in the city, then they have to go elsewhere. Very simple math there.

So, step away from the ledge. This isn't over kids.

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At 24 July, 2007 11:42, Anonymous keithw said...

great analysis D, this helps make sense of what i've been reading. but there is an important implicit point in your analysis, in that we assume (or hope) that the DC govt will 1) have a fair evaluation process and 2) will make a reasonable decision amongst the bidders. For that is what this is, various groups including McFarlane/DCU bidding for the rights to develop poplar point. It will be interesting to see what other proposals come out. Hopefully McF can put together or revise a compelling bid.

At 24 July, 2007 13:40, Anonymous bdr said...

I also need to step back and remember that both sides will be negotiating their public relations positions through the press.

This will be like contract negotiations between unions and management. Nothing will be decided until it absolutely has to, and lots of noxious fumes will be blown until then.

At 24 July, 2007 17:38, Blogger DCU Fan said...

time for McF and partners to seriously look at alternatives or we are talking another five years before a stadium is built. "United in Virginia". It helped baseball negotiate with DC!

At 25 July, 2007 08:30, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 25 July, 2007 09:12, Anonymous Jeremy said...

A deal on a new soccer stadium should have happenned 5 years ago, but the city was too interested in mortgaging the kitchen sink in order to bring a god-awful baseball team in, even though that deal was about as bad as a deal could possibly be.
I say that United should cut it short and start working with VA to build a nice stadium in Arlington or somewhere else along a Metro line.

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