WASHINGTON — Last summer’s Audi Field opening was the triumphant culmination of nearly 20 years of deliberations, false starts and, eventually, a workable plan that cleared every necessary bar to see the District’s soccer team playing in a new home, built just for them.
While that opening wasn’t without its bumps and bruises — some literal — the team has made addressing the primary fan experience issues that plagued it last summer the focal point of the offseason heading into year two at Buzzard Point. So while there may not be any major additions from the fan’s perspective, there are plenty of small things the club hopes will be smoother than at times in 2018.
One of the biggest issues on opening day was the lack of cell service which, coupled with a shift to all-online ticketing, created what Samuel Porter, Senior Vice President, Business and Legal Affairs for the club, described as a “perfect storm.” With the stadium already sitting in a bit of a dead spot in terms of LTE service, some fans found themselves unable to get in.
That issue was addressed in the immediate aftermath and in the months since. The club has worked to boost Wi-Fi service to the area for match days, and foresees a smoother experience in 2019.
“In year two, I expect — and we worked with our partner Mobilitie on this — for the Wi-Fi and the cellular service in the building to be significantly better,” Porter told WTOP.
That should help move lines more quickly into the stadium, as should better messaging about the alternate entrances, which were used sparingly by fans last season.
Another early issue in 2018 was the clear bag policy, which caught many fans off guard. Now, with half a season of feedback, United scrapped the original provisions, unveiling an updated policy on Wednesday that no longer requires clear bags. Instead, like Nationals Park this year, there will be no backpacks allowed, as well as no coolers or other bags that exceed 14-by-14-by-6 inches in size.
While the club highly discourages fans from bringing bags, they will offer an express lane dedicated to those without bags to try to expedite admission into the venue.
There will also be one somewhat major structural change.
“One of the things we’re working on this offseason is the west sideline, adding different kind of signage that maybe blocks the sun more at certain times,” said Porter.
That means alteration to the composition of the advertising panels that line the upper facing on the west side of the stadium to add more protection for the east side of the stadium, including the press box, from the setting sun. Game start times in 2018 were pushed back to 8 p.m. to avoid the glare, though they are scattered around in the evening in 2019.
There will also be some new concessions offerings this year, expected to be unveiled this week.
One thing fans shouldn’t expect is a shift to safe standing in the supporters section. The club hasn’t ruled it out for the future, though.
“Safe standing is something that we’re interested in looking at. We always have been. There’s a bunch of regulations around it that are government and league regulations that we have to work through, but we’re continuing to try to figure out what the timeline on that would be,” Porter said.
On the field, the team nearly lost half its wonder duo of Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta, as the latter was part of a transfer to French titan PSG that never came together under the transfer window. As a result, the Black and Red will have the bulk of their 2018 core back, with hopes that they can carry the momentum built throughout the second half of the season, once Audi Field opened, into 2019.
Even though they went on to lose in penalty kicks to Columbus in the playoffs, that last match of the season embodied everything the club hoped Audi Field could be in terms of a home field, with a raucous, sellout crowd.
“If we open this coming season with even a portion of the vibe that was in the building that night,” said Porter. “It was electric.”
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