When D.C. United decided to pursue a USL Championship franchise and create Loudoun United, there was a shepherding of effort to get the team off the ground and get Segra Field (and accompanying training complex for the teams) off and running, which has been accomplished over a time period few could have anticipated. Now that the dust has cleared and the organization has hired Doug Raftery as Executive Business Officer, Raftery sees the opportunities to get the group back on its feet and running as a promising challenge.
“In talking with Jason (Levien) and Danita (Johnson), this is its own entity, and from the business end for the first time, (Loudoun) will have its own, dedicated staff, and have some ownership over building the club’s identity within the area, so I am in the midst of hiring, and we’ll have a staff of 15 to 17 members to focus on all areas of the business. We’re (going to be) able to have our own ticket sales, folks focusing on corporate partnerships, finding community partners, stadium operations, (even) some beautification within the facility, and making sure that every time someone steps in it, no matter if it’s a Loudoun match or something else, that it looks and feels good. I think the reason that I’m here is to make this staff and club a successful club.”
The benefits of a staff exclusive to Loudoun and potentially living in Loudoun (the current staff commute to and from D.C., Arlington, and surrounding areas closer to the city) and serving as a presence in the community should further benefit the club and the visibility it desires for the team and for the venue. “What you’re going to realize is that we’re going to get ingrained in the community, whether it’s with the Chamber of Commerce, county events, festivals, that there will be a representation of Loudoun United at those events. So there needs to be dedicated staff that has a vision of what you’re selling (if you’re in ticket sales), you want to be on site. The offices will be at the Performance Center down the road from Segra Field. And I think that’s important, rather than being based in DC.”
Raftery is familiar with the area, having gone to school in nearby Frederick, and his family is on either side of Loudoun County and is also familiar with working within a USL/MLS 2 dynamic, having worked with Reno 1868 FC (the San Jose Quakes’ affiliate, which was also an independent hybrid) until the team folded in 2020. Raftery continued to stay in Reno, working as COO with the Reno Aces (a minor league baseball affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks), but as he says, “(it) taught me a lot, but I was itching to get back into (soccer). I’m a huge fan of where soccer has come over the years, and I was taking a look at soccer-specific opportunities. And in talking with (Johnson), she took a very similar path within the G League and WNBA and really gets what a club like Loudoun needs in order to succeed.”
The current portrait of Segra Field is a poor one; infrastructure delays impacted a Washington Spirit game early in 2021 and the venue’s lack of amenities and accessibility are an additional hindrance, with the team’s average 2021 attendance of 689 per game being the second-lowest in the USL among teams that allowed fans into their venues. Raftery has a list of things that he believes should turn around the team’s box-office woes.
“We’ve got work to do on the atmosphere. So, we need a Kid Zone, and that’s something that will come. We need theme nights, we need giveaways, hopefully, we can do fireworks nights, but I do think some of those things that are outside of soccer is what is going to draw. I think that’s something Loudoun County hasn’t really seen happen at Segra Field, (and) I think there are simple little changes that we can make right off the bat. We’ve got maybe four months but we can definitely put some things into play that I think is going to open more eyes to what is happening out there and make (Segra) into a community center.”
Given Loudoun’s proximity (or lack thereof) to D.C. United games, combined with whatever their journey will be after 2022, Raftery, who had his own distance challenges with 1868 and the Quakes, doesn’t foresee an issue. “I don’t think that changes the game plan,” Raftery said. “I do think there is a certain percentage of fans who come for the on-the-field product, who might now want theme nights and giveaways. However, I would argue that for what we’re attempting to build there will be many more fans who will come for that stuff and as long as it’s quality enough it won’t differ as much. And no matter what league we fall in, we would stay along the course with that plan.”
Raftery feels the dual goals of improving the experience at Segra across the various teams that have graced it in 2021 (Loudoun, Spirit, rugby team Old Glory DC, in addition to numerous local events), and lifting the Loudoun organization can be accomplished: “If someone can come away and say ‘I had a really great time and would go back,’ that’s the end goal. Over time they will come back and grow us as a business but grow those around us. But there hasn’t even been a full year at Segra Field; it opened in August 2019, then 2020 happened, and they didn’t get the chance to restart the business unit in 2021. Even with the May (2021) restart there were masks and a lot of things still in the air, so I’m going into 2022 with a fresh start. The stadium’s got great bones, and everyone who I’ve met in the community wants it to succeed and I think (they) will come and support it.”