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Less than a week after a protest marred the opening of its new stadium, D.C. United announced that all three supporter groups will “join forces at Audi Field.”
The club said in a press release Friday night that it had reached an agreement with La Barra Brava, Screaming Eagles, and District Ultras, largely ending a long-running feud that stemmed from what two of those groups—La Barra and the Ultras—saw as exclusionary practices by the club.
“D.C. United are one big and growing family,” United managing partner Jason Levien said in the release. “The Screaming Eagles, La Barra Brava and the District Ultras have encompassed the ‘all welcome, all united’ spirit since their inceptions. Having their leadership at Audi Field is a tremendous boost.”
United’s three recognized supporters’ groups have become a prominent face of the club over the years. Their pregame tailgates, particularly those of La Barra, turned RFK Stadium’s Lot 8 into a local institution; inside the stadium, hundreds if not thousands of their members filled the south side of the stadium with noise and fervor.
Things were always going to change when United left cavernous RFK to take up residence at Audi Field, a much smaller, ritzier space at Buzzard Point. But La Barraand the Ultras were blindsided when the club entered into a strategic partnership with the Eagles back in February, one which gave them exclusive ticketing rights and awarded them a lead role in organizing support in Audi Field’s supporters’ section at the north end of the stadium.
The club now appears to realize that it may have misstepped in that arrangement.
Jay Igiel, a Barra Brava leader, spoke with City Paper Friday evening and laid out the basic framework of the new agreement—La Barra will purchase tickets under an agreement with the club that he describes as “extremely similar” to the deal originally arranged with Screaming Eagles. Srdan Bastic, a founding member ofDistrict Ultras, says that they need time to square away their own ticketing arrangements and logistical issues; they’re also still in the process of figuring out exactly what they’re allowed to do in regards to flags, banners and the like. But they are generally pleased with the progress that’s been made.
United has pledged that it’ll treat all three groups equally in regards to management of the supporters’ stand.
The Eagles, who are giving up 50 season tickets as part of the new arrangement, will likely still have a larger presence, for the time being, at the north end of the stadium. When rumors of Wayne Rooney‘sarrival heated up, the club experienced a surge in ticket sales; season tickets in the supporters’ end of the stadium are the cheapest available, and many of those were plucked up. This leaves Barra Brava with about 75 permanent tickets to re-sell, though they’ll have fewer than that for the next two games, due to the timing.
One of the biggest issues that remains to be sorted out is where exactly to put potentially hundreds of new fans in an already-cramped section of the stadium. How the club and it’s three supporters’ groups will work that all out remains to be seen.
One thing that both La Barra and the Ultras seem to agree on is that Levien himself was a catalyst in recent talks. When reached by phone on Thursday afternoon, Levien told City Paper that he wasn’t quite aware of how bad things had gotten.
“I should have been involved sooner, but we will get that taken care of,” he said. “I did not know how bad this had gotten until the ribbon cutting—I had people coming over to me asking, ‘Hey, can you solve this?’
“When we had the press conference in 2012 and when we announced the stadium, we always made it clear that this was about delivering for our supporters. So now to get here, and to not have them involved—that would be a travesty.”
An issue that may have dragged this process out was what many described as personal animosity between Tom Hunt, United’s now-former president of business operations, and individual leaders ofLa Barra, something Levien said he was largely unaware of. Several sources familiar with negotiations between the club and its supporters’ groups described a fractured relationship, one which culminated with a screaming match between Hunt and a Barra Brava leader some months ago.
Posts by individual members of La Barraand District Ultras aimed at the club and the Eagles on social media have been emotional and at times vitriolic. The club, on its end, largely froze both groups out and was slow in acknowledging its initial mistake.
The Ultras expressed to the City Paper last night that they don’t intend to have an “official” presence at the stadium until August 12th. The club, in its release, erred when it said that “all supporters’ groups will be present” for United’s match against the New York Red Bulls this coming Wednesday, something which a club official acknowledged in an email to City Paper last night.
Igiel, La Barra’s leader, also suggested that the framework of the deal reached on Friday is open to improvement. His group, for example, hopes to have access to additional seats beyond the 75 they’ve committed to. “We could’ve purchased hundreds,” he said. He also mentioned that moving forward, “all groups will need to purchase tickets under the exact same terms and conditions, or there needs to be an independent supporters’ council,” something that may have settled the drama before it even started.