Sunday, February 22, 2009

Save DC United From McFarlane and Co.

Major League Soccer and Washington's local soccer community should act to prevent DC United's "owners" from destroying the franchise with a selfish, poorly conceived move to Prince George's County, Md.

DC United is one of the league's most successful franchises, with consistently high attendance at games.

A couple of years ago, Victor McFarlane, a real estate investment guy from California, "bought" the team. We say "bought" in quotes because he and his partners don't actually own the team--MLS does. But by virtue of his partnership's agreements with MLS, McFarlane effectively controls the team.

Neither McFarlane, nor his primary partners, know much about soccer. The only local investor with a major stake in the franchise is Brian Davis, who is a basketball guy. (He and Christian Laettner, also an investor, played together at Duke.)

McFarlane also doesn't know much about D.C., although he thinks he does.

The reason McFarlane invested in the team was that he hoped he could leverage it to do a stadium deal where his real estate investment company would make money on some type of large, mixed-use development associated with the new stadium. And, of course, like most egotistical sports franchise owners, he hoped he could get taxpayers to finance the whole thing.

So, what we have is a guy who knows little (and apparently cares little) about soccer or D.C., who's invested in DC United only for the real estate angle. He's now threatening to destroy the franchise by moving it away from its fan base and into Prince George's County, which is probably the least soccer friendly jurisdiction in the Washington region.

Why P.G. County? Initially, McFarlane thought he could work a deal to put a new stadium at Poplar Point, in D.C., across the Anacostia River from the new baseball stadium. We're not sure that would be a particularly good location, either, but it was better than P.G. County. He wanted the deal at Poplar Point, however, as a foot in the door to developing the rest of the site, which is one of the largest available within the District of Columbia, and which--at least in the good ol' days of real estate mania--looked like a great place to make a mint.

But now the Poplar Point deal has fallen through. No one else in their right mind is going to use taxpayer money to finance a new stadium in today's economic conditions, and the real estate market is looking pretty poorly in any event.

But in comes P.G. County with an offer to finance the new stadium. We can't imagine why--P.G.'s residents are hardly soccer crazy; but fiscal responsibility has never been a hallmark of the Maryland County and if we had to guess we'd bet there's a little something on the side for everyone (except the taxpayers) involved in the deal over there.

That's nice for McFarlane and his cronies. If they make money on the real estate end, then who cares how it affects DC United. And that's our concern. Moving the franchise to P.G. County could destroy it; it certainly will devalue the team. See, 65% of United's fans are in Northern Virginia and their support will wane significantly if the team moves out of relatively convenient RFK stadium to P.G. County.

McFarlane has been quoted as dismissing the prospect of losing the team's NoVa fan base, stating that perhaps the team will tap into new fans from Maryland. Fat chance--this isn't the Redskins, with a 35,000 person waiting list for tickets. The truth is, McFarlane just doesn't care.

Major League Soccer, however, should care. They still own the franchise and it is a significant part of the success of MLS. MLS shouldn't let McFarlane destroy the club for his own selfish motives. Perhaps they could find a new owner who actually cares about soccer?

1 comment:

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