Sunday, February 13, 2011

Can DC United's Schedule Help the Club?

The announcement of this year's schedule came last Thursday; it was a long time in coming. With the season kicking off in just over a month, MLS took until the last possible moment to announce who would be playing which team, where and on what date. What stood out most for many DC United supporters, was that the first five home games or so are truly the MLS’ top clubs. Front loading all these teams seemed odd at first. Why would they do that? Given that MLS takes into account who teams want to play on specific days, is it fair to believe that DC United had something specific in mind?

Over the last few months, it has become clear that United’s owner, William Chang, is working through two challenges: a search for a co-owner to help alleviate the financial burden, and a need to find a stadium deal. By front loading United’s schedule with MLS’s top teams-clubs that fans would want to watch play live- United will kickstart the season and game attendance.

The obvious question then, is whether these are in fact the teams that fans want to watch? In an online pole posted on United’s website, the games most respondent wanted to watch were the home opener against Columbus, and the 2nd, 3rd and 4th matches (against LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls and Seattle, respectively). Because of fan interest, this may allow for attendance at these games to break the 20,000 mark, and help bolster United’s value.

In dealing with possible investors, Chang will need to demonstrate that the club retains a high level of support despite missing the playoffs for a few years now and last year’s atrocious record. A turnout of 20,000+ per game would pay dividends on this end.

Secondly, a good turnout will also help Chang when dealing with DC city officials. At present, the city earns ~10% from sales at Nationals Stadium concession stands and merchandising. If DC United are hoping the city provides them with some assistance, or builds the stadium, they will need to demonstrate that they can generate approximately the same attendance per game as the Nationals average at their 22,000 seat stadium.

The frontloading of the home schedule will have additional indirect benefit. By playing this many of the league’s toughest home games early in the season, United ensure that they will not have to face them at home late in the season, when the race for the playoffs commences.

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