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Mixed Reviews In D.C.?

Is DC United's New Stadium Ruining The Club's Fan, Tailgating Culture?

by Loyd McIntosh
D. C. United's Audi Field before the opening match. By Gregory Koch

Following years of hoping and dreaming, the long-awaited soccer stadium in the center of the nation’s capital opened this summer. Audi Field, the home of Major League Soccer’s D.C. United, is a 20,000-seat soccer-specific stadium located in the Buzzard Point community in Washington D.C., just two diagonal blocks from Nationals Park. Audi Park, which officially opened on July 14, is just the latest in a long run of intimate, urban stadiums around the country, the vast majority of which have been well-received. However, Audi Park’s debut hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts, due to long lines, high concession prices, and the possible end to the club’s vibrant tailgating culture.

One of the charter member clubs of MLS, D.C. United began playing home games in RFK Stadium in 1996, the same year the NFL’s Redskins departed for FedEx Field. During that time, the United developed a fanbase and tailgating culture that regularly congregated in Lot 8, a sprawling parking lot outside the aging stadium. During the 22 years the United played at RFK, Lot 8 took on mythical status, recognized as a place where fans from various ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds could come together. Inside the aging, decaying stadium, the scene was similar, with fans jumping up and down on the old stands to bounce up and down as well. It may have been a crappy stadium, but it was the people’s stadium.

On the other hand, the scuttlebutt on the social media suggests Audi Field was created with the wealthy without the rank and file fan in mind. The stadium’s opening night was plagued by complaints, such as long lines getting into the stadium as people were caught off guard over the bag policy, as season ticket holders were able to bypass the long lines. While the stadium itself has received positive reviews for its great sight lines and world-class surface, the melting-pot vibe that made games at RFK so charming seems to be lost – at least for now.