Sounders FC GM Adrian Hanauer and D.C. United president Kevin Payne hope their war of words in July over the U.S. Open Cup final will spell success for Wednesday's game in terms of exposure and revenue.
Kevin Payne and Adrian Hanauer are a couple of Major League Soccer executives who are friends. Both were in New York last week for meetings and got along as if there never was an issue between them.
Only there was, and come Wednesday night, something of a score will be settled.
Payne, president of D.C. United, is out to prove to Hanauer, general manager of Sounders FC, that the U.S. Soccer Federation was right to award the bid to host the U.S. Open Cup final to D.C. even though attendance at RFK Stadium doesn’t figure to be what it might have been had the game been played at Qwest Field. Hanauer took issue with the federation, which governs the U.S. Open Cup, about the bidding process after it was announced in July that D.C. won the bid.
“I do still feel like the bidding process could be more transparent and better understood by fans, owners, general managers,” Hanauer said. “Now, it’s purely financial. I don’t know if that’s the best way to [go], especially if you want a major tournament. There are other ways to do it. You can do a draw, like they do for other major tournaments around the world.”
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In July, with both D.C. and Seattle preparing for the Open Cup semifinals, the USSF announced that D.C. would host the final if it won its game and regardless of the outcome of the Seattle-Houston match. Hanauer, confident that Sounders FC’s financial bid to host was aggressive but not in the know about how much D.C. bid, openly questioned the bidding process. He felt that not only had Sounders FC earned consideration because it played better competition in the tournament, but that the final would draw a crowd larger than the one D.C. might attract, and wanted to know what factors were looked at in the selection process.
Sounders FC felt that even though the final would have had to be played in the afternoon on a Tuesday because the stadium crew needed time to set up for a Seahawks game two days later, plus a Mariners game in the late afternoon Wednesday which ruled out that day for the soccer match, it could still deliver a big crowd.
Payne responded by stating he was offended by Hanauer’s implying that the bidding process was skewed in D.C.’s favor and that Hanauer had no idea how much D.C. bid for the match, so Hanauer had no basis for his criticism if he was simply outbid with cash.
“We participated in the process, and we won,” Payne said last week. “I was a little offended that because I am on the board of the U.S. Soccer Federation, that my team was shown favoritism.”
Payne felt that his club winning the right to host also came down to its ability to play at night, which benefited Fox Soccer Channel, the network televising the match, and the fact that RFK Stadium has a grass surface as opposed to Qwest’s FieldTurf.
“We’ve already played in more games this year than Seattle will play all season,” Payne said. “We have four CONCACAF [Champions League] games to play before the end of September. The last thing we wanted to do was take a flight to Seattle. It was a major strategic decision by us.”
The flap between the two spawned a D.C. United marketing campaign to sell more tickets to the final. It has included a Web site heralding the club’s history of titles as an original MLS franchise, WeWinTrophies.com; an open letter placed in local newspapers declaring that D.C. fans set the standard for support in the league and that Sounders FC and its fans didn’t think D.C. deserved to host; videos on the team’s official blog from local celebrities urging fans to attend and ticket and concession specials for the game.
“If our little public spat helped sell a single ticket, then good for the game. Good for U.S. Open Cup, D.C. United, Sounders FC, good for MLS,” Hanauer said. “If I have to push the envelope publicly and in the media to help sell tickets, then I’ll do it again.”
Payne expects a crowd of 15,000 to 20,000. The club drew 8,212 fans for last year’s Open Cup final, a win over Charleston of the USL First Division.
“I like it. I think it’s great,” Hanauer said of D.C. United’s marketing strategy to sell the game using the executives’ verbal battle. “I’ve got pretty thick skin so none of it has seemed offensive to me, to our fans, to our city.
“I hope we go in there and steal the trophy, but Kevin and his team are smart business operators and I’m happy for whatever success they can have out of this.”
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org