Speaking of which, D.C. United still plays in RFK Stadium, and Levien said that's another priority, making it a better experience for the fans.
"We're talking about that now," Levien said. "It's going to take time to implement some of those things, but we're really trying to strategize that while we're at RFK, how do we improve that experience. You're going to start seeing some of that later in the season, I hope, but that's a big priority." (emphasis added)
And goodness knows RFK could use some improvements. As Martin pointed out, the Chicago Fire's SB Nation Blog said after Wednesday night's complete defeat at the hands of D.C. United, "They have rebuilt RFK into a bug infested, broken chaired, bouncy seated fortress."
Some might argue that the club shouldn't invest a penny into RFK in order to use every last cent on the new stadium that is coming. But, now that Jason Levien has opened the door to improving the fan experience at RFK, let's drive a BMac right through it. So, what are the Top 5 improvements the new ownership group should make at RFK right now?
To start, an "enhancement" is not what the club and city announced at the beginning of the season:
In addition to the lease agreement, Events DC also announced a multi-million dollar capital improvement project on the Stadium-Armory campus that will enhance the fan experience at games and events. The project will include improved concourse lighting and renovated restrooms at the stadium...
I've never heard anyone get excited about going to a stadium to see the improved lighting or the renovated restrooms (but certainly, if lighting or restrooms aren't up to minimally acceptable standards, you can drive people away because of that).
What would fans like? What would truly make the experience better at RFK, warts and all?
1. Free High-Speed Wi-Fi. This is a no brainer in my opinion. Most of us carry smart phones, and we want to use them to look up stats, get scores of other games, post to BR&U or various social media sites, etc...I carry an iPhone with AT&T service. I never had a problem using the phone while living in Colorado. I never have a problem at my home in the DC suburbs either. But as soon as I get into the District for any type of event (including games at RFK), the network completely shuts down. It's maddening. Want to take a picture of one of the players up close and tweet it out to friends to convince them to come to the game? Can't do it. How about using Major League Soccer's very good app to check the current Eastern Conference standings based on the status of games in progress? Not going to happen. And good luck trying to check in at RFK stadium or download video of a goal from earlier in the game. While the network's failure isn't D.C. United's fault, (and perhaps other cellular networks work fine) it would be a big hit with fans to offer free Wi-Fi for all.
2. Post Scores of Other MLS Games in the Stadium. At this time of year, every game seems like the biggest of the season. That's because D.C. United is locked in a tight playoff race and every game truly does matter right now. That includes games being played in other MLS cities. At Wednesday's night game against the Chicago Fire, I never heard a score for the Columbus-Toronto match despite Columbus fighting to knock United out of playoff spot (but then again, it was hard to hear anything on the PA system--see below). Additionally, while the conference standings are in the excellent (and free) program handed out at every D.C. United home match, it would be nice if the standings were visibile in the stadium and updated in real-time based on the current scores of on-going matches (just as the MLS app does it). Come on, by providing scores of other MLS games in progress, the club might just be able to build a little drama like occurred on the last day of the English Premier League last season (same thing happened in Major League Baseball last year as well).
3. Upgrade the Public Address System. For those of you old enough to remember, the PA system in many parts of the stadium sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher ("wah-wah-wah") talking in the Grand Canyon. At times, it's just about impossible to understand. While fixing the PA system may not get the fans excited, it would prevent the PA system from slipping below the minimally acceptable standard that it is teetering on right now.
4. Add a Stoppage Time Clock. I don't know what the standard is in other stadiums around MLS, but it would be nice if there was a clock that started keeping time as soon as a half entered stoppage time. During the second half of Wednesday's night game, the referee added 4 minutes. The clocks in the stadium stopped on 90:00, and there was not anywhere visible that the stoppage time clock was being kept. At least one of the Spanish-speaking TV channels also doesn't show a stoppage time clock, and it's equally strange. A clock adds drama, whether you are trying to protect a lead or trying to get a winning (or tying) goal.
5. Increased Fan Interaction with Players. Now let's be clear, D.C. United has some really cool fan interaction events: Meet the Team Day, the recent VW Ride and Drive Event, community events, etc. One of MLS's pluses is that it is an intimate and accessible sport--you can sit right next to (or on) the field without being a multi-millionaire and the players seem like real people, not out-of-touch jocks. But, it also seems that D.C. United could do more. For example, let's have a few players (and not just Reserves) available after every game to sign autographs; let's give away game-worn jerseys after every game to fans who attend; let's figure out a way to give fans a behind the scenes look at the team and the stadium on game days. While NASCAR couldn't be more different than MLS, NASCAR has grown into a big sport based on marketing their drivers and giving the fans an up-close-and-personal experience. MLS should do the same, and D.C. United has an amazing stable of stars to build this around (Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius, Andy Najar, Nick DeLeon, Bill Hamid, etc...).
What about you? What improvements would you like to see at RFK to improve the fan experience?