Danita Johnson has paid her dues, and now, as the new president of business operations for D.C. United, she is making history.
Johnson is the first Black president of a Major League Soccer team, and only the third woman in the 26-year history of the league to serve in this role.
“It’s a whole new world and I am very ready for this,” said Johnson. “I’ve put in a lot of work to get here and I’m still learning my craft, but I feel like I’m in a position to help elevate this organization. I’m thrilled for the future that we have ahead of us and to be at the helm and to help lead D.C. United into the next generation.”
Johnson’s previous job was as president and chief operating officer of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks — the 2019 WNBA franchise of the year and the league’s marketing and ticket organization of the year. But she started as a marketing and community relations intern for a team in the NBA Development League (now called the G-League) in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
I’ve gotten to see her work up close, as her career included a stop in D.C. as director of ticket sales with the Washington Mystics in 2013 and 2014. During her tenure, the team ranked in the top half of the 12-team league for ticket sales, averaging more than 7,000 fans per game.
She got a wide variety of requests and complaints from fans (as a fellow employee of Monumental Sports, and having a similar name, I received many emails that were intended for her), but she was always proactive and transparent.
Now with D.C. United, Johnson is in charge of the business end of one of the original members of MLS. Early in the history of the league, the Black and Red set the standard for attendance and in-stadium atmosphere. In the last days of RFK Stadium, United’s attendance declined, but the club has received a boost from the opening of its own stadium, Audi Field.
Johnson talks with passion about her craft and her love of interacting with fans, and is confident it will transfer to her new job, her first with a professional soccer team.
“There is a cultural aspect to this that is different from other sports in our country. And I’m very excited to kind of get ingrained in that and learn more as I go,” Johnson said. “The in-stadium experience with Major League Soccer and the supporter groups is something else. The fans are cheering the entire game. Basketball is amazing, but that’s not what happens at a basketball game. There is this intensity soccer fans bring to that amplifies the environment and really adds to the overall experience for everyone.”
While she’s clearly qualified for the job no matter who she is, she understands the significance of being the first Black president of an MLS team.
“I never thought that I would be the first in a capacity of this in my career,” Johnson said. “There are so many people that come before us this world and in this industry, so to be the first, it means so much to me — it’s something I’ll never forget. It is an experience in my life that I will always remember, and we’re just getting started. So I take a lot of pride in it, and I feel honored to be serving in this position in this role at this time of my life.”
And she has a message for D.C. United fans:
“There might be times when I do some things that you’re not going to like, and it’s going to feel uncomfortable but trust me, the results are going to be really good for us in the long term,” Johnson said. “And there might be times I come back and say I made a mistake. I think being transparent and human with fans is so important. Fans are going to the real me. I treat people how I would like to be treated.”