There was a time in the not so distant past when public funding for a professional sports venues wasn’t that hard to get. Throw out a dubious economic study, evoke some civic pride, and mix in the threat of relocation, and you have a recipe for a series of publicly funded, privately used stadiums across the country. But now that those studies carry less weight, the economic climate’s forcing tougher decisions with tax payer money, and relocations have left a been-there, done-that feel with too many spots, pushing a stadium bill past a local government is harder than ever.
That’s why it shouldn’t be a big surprise that there’s so much opposition to D.C. United’s proposal for a new stadium, according to poll results released Sunday by the Washington Post. The bill, being pushed by D.C. Mayor Vincent Grey, has support from only 35 percent of the 1,003 residents polled, with most expressing skepticism about the district’s potential $150 million investment. Perhaps more concerning, at least one respondent said her opposition specifically concerns spending on soccer. From the Post:
Six in 10 District residents oppose the plan … with the number of those strongly opposed to the deal more than double those who strongly support it …
The proposed investment is less than one-fourth of what the city invested in Nationals Park, the baseball stadium that opened in 2008 and is now widely seen by city residents as a good investment … Rosalind Jackson-Lewis, a 57-year-old Riggs Park resident, said she is “absolutely, positively against it.” “There are more pressing problems in the city, and soccer is not going to add value to the city,” said Jackson-Lewis, a retired accountant …
The poll isn’t the only problem. In the middle of a reelection campaign, Grey is receiving pressure from within his own party about his support of the unpopular plan. The city has yet to secure the land it would donate for the project, and any financing plan (which involves selling an office building) would still have to be approved by the city council. It seems like we’ve been here before. There’s an apparent stadium plan for D.C., the MLS community gets excited, and then we’re reminded how difficult things get once we move beyond the soccer sphere. While MLS fans are as devoted as any, not everybody beyond that bubble is sold on soccer. While D.C. residents may be willing pay for $600 million baseball stadium, the idea of a smaller investment for soccer end up being a no-go. We’re just not there yet. According to the Post, it’s not just that District residents currently oppose a park. Residents have been historically consistent in their opposition to a new United venue:
Public opinion on a city-financed soccer stadium has not changed appreciably since 2008, when the last serious talks took place about a deal with D.C. United. At that time, 60 percent of residents opposed using public funds to finance a soccer facility, with 39 percent supporting. The new poll showed 59 percent opposing the current plan, with 35 percent in favor. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The Post has much more, especially about the proposed soccer stadium vis-a-vis Nationals Park. The question that I can’t get out of my mind, as somebody who has a vested interest in soccer’s growth: Should I be rooting for D.C. United to get this deal when most of the district’s citizens oppose it? We get so caught up in ‘Yay, they got a venue,’ and ‘wow, look at that new park,” that we never stop and consider how much those projects make sense outside of our soccer bubbles. Would a new park be great of United? Of course. Have you heard about the rats at RFK? But is it something that’s good for the District of Columbia? Should soccer fans want something that’s so unpopular with the people who will give up land and a building to get make it happen? D.C. United has some convincing to do.