No, new DC United stadium probably wouldn’t host 46 events per year

The District of Columbia has released a transportation management plan for its proposed D.C. United soccer stadium, which is meant to plan for traffic and transit impacts if the stadium is built. Naturally enough, the Washington Business Journal has missed this entirely, and instead focused on “Lookit all the stuff that the stadium will be used for!!!”

In addition to 23 United games, with an average attendance of 19,200 fans, five international soccer matches are expected to sell out the stadium, as will three annual concerts. Five community events will draw a projected 4,000 visitors each, and 10 “other events,” such as NCAA lacrosse games, will average 6,000 fans each.

Where, exactly, did these numbers come from?

D.C. United provided the District with a preliminary estimate of how the stadium will be used.

Uh, yeah, right. So let’s start with those 23 United home games. The MLS season includes 17 home games; the report notes that United has 20 home games scheduled for 2014, but that’s only because the team made the CONCACAF Champions League, which won’t happen every year. There’s no explanation of how they got to 23, but presumably if they make the playoffs (yeah, yeah, the MLS Cup, but Americans still think of it as the playoffs) then that would amount to 23 games — as a maximum, but in a down year it could be as few as 17.

The rest of the events — international friendlies, concerts, lacrosse, etc. — those are apparently made up out of whole cloth, though they’re reasonable goals to shoot for. But again, the numbers could end being lower, depending on how badly touring acts want to play in an outdoor 20,000-seat stadium, how much competition the stadium would get from other D.C. venues, and so on.

Finally, the report notes that the United stadium hasn’t been designed yet, and might hold as few as 18,000 fans, which would make an average 19,200 attendance a bit unlikely. (United also hasn’t drawn anywhere near 19,000 fans per game in recent years, though presumably they’re hoping that will change in a new stadium.) The 19,200 figure, it’s explained, is meant as a “conservative” estimate — which, since this is a transportation document, means it’s the likely top end, since you want to account for maximum usage when you’re thinking about traffic.

All of this is fine — for a transportation report. What it is not is an actual projection of what will take place at a United stadium. So what’s the Washington Business Journal’s lede?

The proposed D.C. United stadium at Buzzard Point will be in use 46 times per year, and for much more than just soccer.

Sorry, but we have some lovely parting gifts…

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21 comments on “No, new DC United stadium probably wouldn’t host 46 events per year

  1. Here are a few shots from DCU’s most recent Champions League match:

    Makes you wonder all the more how they arrived at that 19,200 number. Maybe they had a blind draw to determine what numbers to put on the report?

  2. I went to a Champions League match for the Red Bulls last month, and it was almost as empty. U.S. soccer fans are barely aware that the CONCACAF Champions League exists, let alone want to pay money to see it.

    Again, I’m fine with them projecting 19,200 attendance for a transportation report, since the whole idea is to make sure the transit system doesn’t break if lots of people go to the games. But as an actual prediction of what will likely happen, it’s ridiculous.

  3. I think you’re forgetting the US Open Cup, an annual tournament that brings about 5 other home games with it. Its probably included somehow in the calculation. As for getting to 19,000 attendance, I don’t think that is unreachable for the club. RFK is a horrible stadium to watch a game and I rarely go, but personally I’m looking forward to buying some club level tickets in the new one. Take a look at Sporting KC, they went from 10K attendance to 18.5k after their new stadium.

    Obviously you are opposed to the stadium, and I understand the ridiculous deal that the Nationals got has tainted this process, but this deal is better and better suited for newer and less profitable league than MLB. (although the land swap for Reeves and the tax abatement should be better). Still, I’m hoping that this gets built and helps bring in more business and residences to the SW waterfront area.

  4. CONCACAF CL matches are a terrible proxy for average attendance. The clubs themselves barely care about it. The Red Bulls fielded what is basically a reserve team for its last CCL match and got dumped out of the competition accordingly. Fans don’t care much, MLS teams don’t care much, so nobody is going to show up.

    As for the number of events (both MLS and non-MLS), those are actually reasonable estimates. And remember there are a couplathree more teams coming into the league (although minus-one for a couple of seasons as Chivas figures out what it is). So 23 isn’t a terrible number: MLS schedule, US Open Cup, CCL, playoffs, even with the last three being variable from year-to-year, that sounds about right.

    Also in one of the funnier ironies, some MLS stadia are also hosting football (American version) games, both high school and small college. Ironic because one of the big pushes to get SSS was that football lines and wear and tear on the field itself were unacceptable for soccer; but now that venues want more events, they are actually hosting games. Pretty sure both the Fire and Houston do this (in fact the field for the last Fire game looked like crap because it had been torn up in places where football players spend most of the game pushing each other around). But that’s another option for getting a couple more events.

    Not saying all of this is good or worth building a stadium over, just that 46 doesn’t seem too outlandish.

  5. Right, forgot about the Open Cup. (Speaking of things nobody cares about.) I still think 46 events is a high-end estimate, which is fine for a transportation plan — just not for a news headline.

  6. Even the US Open Cup is a drag on attendance numbers, particularly for MLS sides; correct me if I’m wrong here, but I believe the final in Philadelphia (well, Chester) was not a sellout.

    Realistically, only sellouts at the new stadium would be MLS matches and international friendlies — even if the stadium ends up hosting 45-50 events per year, a good majority of them may not fill half of the capacity.

  7. If they get stadium, it’s so city council can free up RFK for NFL. Attendance will bounce back in new place.

  8. I think CONCACAF Champions league games draw decent attendance in the later rounds, but the points made here are all valid. I’m kind with DC20009 here in that MLS stadiums can be used more than most, between 20,000 seat concerts; High School finals for football, soccer, and lacross; club events, and small college events. I understand Neil’s point, this is fine for a transportation report, but not for a business plan. It’d be interesting to see an honest assessment of the usefulness of these facilities, including the one here in Commerce City, Colorado. One thing, I believe it has helped the Colorado Rapids attendance, and it is a lot nicer for soccer than Mile High Stadium (NFL) was, not that my experience justifies taxpayer funds.

  9. I much prefer soccer at a stadium designed for soccer as well. But that doesn’t necessarily make it worth the cost, right, either for the team or certainly for a city.

    Does anyone know how many concerts MLS stadiums typically host? It seems like an awkward size — if you’re an artist who thinks you can sell out 20,000 seats or close to it, you might as well go to the local basketball/hockey arena where there’s a better sound system and no worries about getting rained on.

  10. The ones at Toyota Park tend to be those multi-band touring things. Like the Eric Clapton Crossroads show was there. Then there was a Willie Nelson-Wilco-Half-Dozen-Other-Americana bands thing maybe last summer. Might have been a Phish run for a couple nights as well.

    So maybe it works for things people are going to make a full day of as opposed to ‘drive to arena, spend three hours, go home.’

  11. Sporting Park does two a year and they’re usually the big festival tours like Farm Aid. The size of the soccer specific stadiums is kind of odd for concerts since there are usually concert specific venues with better concerts ammenities like lawn sweating. in KC it’s the Cricket Wireless is about 3 miles down the road and seats 18,000. Or they’re too small a for the biggest tours which will go to places like Arrowhead.

    DC will have particular problems with getting concerts since you they’ll have to be competing with both Merriweather Post and Wolf Trap both of which seat roughly the same number as Buzzards Point will.

  12. “Lawn sweating” sounds like an excellent description of watching an outdoor show in the summer in D.C.

  13. The United have taken attendance inflation to a whole new level, the joke is that it’s a “late arriving crowd” when they announce 12,000 and there isn’t half of that in the stands. Sure for mid-summer games on a nice Saturday night they’ll draw a decent crowd (no where near 19K), but if it’s cold, or drizzly, or a weekday the place is empty.

    Blaming RFK is their go to line, even though the Nats drew more fans at RFK than they’ve ever drawn at their new ballpark, it’s a great old place that is the easiest spot in DC to get in and out of, much better than the new place will be if it’s built on a Point. Another issue that always gets overlooked is that RFK is the best tailgating spot in the city and about half the crowd comes for the legendary tailgating. Buzzard’s Point has no large lots, people will be parking blocks away, or walking a mile from the Metro, this move would kill that scene.

    The one thing this place might draw is concerts, Jiffy Lube and Merriweather Post are long drives out of town in VA and MD with no Metro access, nobody likes driving to those places or dealing with the traffic jams getting out.

  14. You also left out exhibition matches, of which there are always one or two. And we’ve also hosted several international competitions. Yes, you’re against the stadium, ok. However, try to be fair. The estimate is fairly reasonable. It’s much easier to find events at the 20,000 seat level than to fill a 50-90k seat stadium monster. The stadium is a good deal for the city.

  15. Can someone who thinks a new D.C. stadium would average 46 events a year at near capacity please point me to another MLS stadium that averages that many? (Not counting L.A., since it has two teams.) Not saying it doesn’t exist, but I haven’t been able to find one yet.

  16. @Brian: They could hold a dozen exhibition games at the stadium and it wouldn’t matter, February practice games attended by a couple hundred fans bring in negligible revenue for the city. The fact that the United includes them in their home game count demonstrates how much they are skewing the numbers, I would not trust a single statement issued by this team with their shady foreign ownership (even after they booted the shadow owner who bought in with embezzled money).

  17. Hey Neil, here is your laugh of the day, forget 46 events, the United’s shady foreign owner is now claiming that the proposed MLS stadium in DC will host 200 events a year. This guy is one trip to the opium den from claiming 400 events a year, probably he’s planning on hosting a large number of weddings and corporate Christmas parties.



    Thohir explained that at his other club, DC United who play in the MLS, have planned their stadium with other streams of revenue in mind.

    “When we build the DC Arena, we designed it so the field is not only for football but also for concerts, for lacrosse, for college football and rugby so can we make sure that for 200 days [of the year] we can fill it up.”

  18. Maybe this already has been beought up, but: How many of these concerts would be new for DC, and how many would just be substituted from elsewhere in DC, this resulting in zero net economic development?

  19. The sample size of “concerts at soccer stadiums” is so tiny, I don’t even know how to guess. But yes, deducting concerts that could otherwise play at RFK or somewhere would make the economic impact even smaller.

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