Washington Spirit’s business president sees bright future with full time move to Audi Field

Washington Spirit owner Michele Kang told a live audience at Capital Turnaround in Southeast D.C. in late November that it was her quest to make her National Women’s Soccer League club a “global phenomenal.”

Behind the scenes, Kang, who took over full ownership of the Spirit in March, hatched out a plan to find the club a permanent home in a world-class venue for the 2021 NWSL Champions. She found her solution in the District.

The Washington Spirit formally announced its full-time move to Audi Field in D.C. starting in 2023 on Dec. 6. In an interview with WTOP, the Spirit’s president of business operations Emma May said the decision to make the full-time move to D.C. is a step in closing the gap between men’s and women’s sports.

“We’re excited that the fans are excited. And we’re excited that the players are excited. We did this for them,” May said.

Since joining the organization on Oct. 24, May said she noticed that Kang was “massively involved” in negotiations to make Audi Field the Spirit’s permanent home. The team’s current relationship with the venue’s owners, D.C. United, is very positive, she said, adding that United’s president of business operations Danita Johnson was very integral in getting the deal done.

“We also wanted to give our fans a place that felt like home that they could get used to coming to, they could get to know the area, they could get to know the neighborhood, they could start to create a routine as it relates to how they engage with the Washington Spirit,” she said.

WASHINGTON, DC — APRIL 03: Trinity Rodman #2 of Washington Spirit (L) celebrates with fans after defeating Orlando Pride at Audi Field on April 03, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Under the new deal, Audi Field will host all the Spirit’s regular season, Challenge Cup and playoff matches. Details on possible home preseason matches will be announced once the schedule is confirmed. Doubleheaders with D.C. United were not a part of the deal, but May said the Spirit are open to the idea, “but it depends on our schedules.”

With a permanent home for games, May said the club expects to “significantly” boost its season ticket memberships. During its six regular season matches at the 20,000-seat Audi Field, the Spirit averaged 8,914 fans — while only averaging 2,991 supporters at Segra Field.

May said fans should expect to spend a little more on tickets as the club prepares to play 14 games in D.C. However, to ensure that all fans can see their favorite women’s soccer players, ticket prices will range from “really affordable to luxury seating,” May said. Game day tickets averaged around $30 during the 2022 season.

As of Dec. 29, season memberships start at $200 in the supporters’ section — both standing and seating areas — and rise to the highest plan costing $2,500 for all 11 regular-season games if purchased before Jan. 10.

Those who take advantage before the deadline will receive all three Challenge Cup matches added on for free. In addition, single game day tickets will be available to purchase once the schedule is released. More details on season tickets can be found on the Spirit’s website.

“Needless to say, we’ve got really big goals,” May said. “We want to make sure that the atmosphere at Audi is one that is absolutely rocking. In order to do that, we’ve got to get fans in that stadium.”

In a previous agreement with United, the Spirit split its home games between Audi Field and Segra Field in Loudoun County, Virginia, for the last three years.

While the team expanded its reach into Virginia, accommodations at the 5,000-seat venue disappointed fans and players.

Before restroom trailers were added, supporters used portable toilets. Washington’s 2021 home opener had to be moved to Houston because Segra Field did not meet the league’s stadium standards following construction delays in adding showers in the locker room modules.

LEESBURG, VA — JULY 10: Amber Brooks #22 of Washington Spirit saves the ball during the first half a at Segra Field on July 10, 2022 in Leesburg, Virginia. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

On the field, the Spirit never adjusted to playing on Segra Field’s turf surface, which caused odd bounces and slicker ball movement than on grass. As a result, Washington lost three of its four 2021 regular season games in Leesburg and only scored six times in five matches in 2022.

Before being relieved of his duties in August, former head coach Kris Ward called the field at Segra an “abomination” and hoped Spirit never played on it again.

When asked about the players’ reaction to the news, May said they were “ecstatic” and “thrilled.” Both Spirit supporters’ groups — the Spirit Squadron and the Rose Room Collective — also voiced their support for the Audi Field move on social media.

In 2023, fans should expect more activations inside and outside Audi Field during game days. While nothing official can be confirmed, May said Spirit signage will be all over the venue while the team looks to use all the available space, including pregame events at the stadium’s plaza in front of Gate A.

“We want to be the most innovative club, period, not just in the NWSL,” May said. “We want to be doing things differently. So we’re going to test things, we’re going to try things. And we’re not afraid to try some fun stuff.”

Last season, the Spirit created Spiritville — an interactive fan area which featured music, a kids’ zone and free beer to the first 1,000 fans. When asked about Spiritville’s return, May said something similar to it will return next season that provides “an elevated experience.”

“The bottom line is that word-of-mouth marketing is still one of the most effective forms of marketing that exists,” May said. “The only way we get word-of-mouth marketing for the Spirit is for people to come and have an absolutely unbelievable time and then tell their friends and tell their [families].”

José Umaña

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

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