SoccerWire Q&A: D.C. United COO Tom Hunt on his club’s new logo, search for new fans
WASHINGTON – D.C. United are a proud club with a rich history relative to Major League Soccer, highlighted by a cabinet chock full of trophies at their RFK Stadium home.
But only two of those trophies have been won in the last eight years, and the crowds that flock to the old concrete bowl on East Capitol Street have dwindled significantly during that time. The club says it loses millions of dollars each year, as profitability remains impossible until the Black-and-Red move into the new soccer-specific stadium slated to open at Buzzard Point in 2018.
So in the meantime, head coach Ben Olsen and general manager Dave Kasper have been instructed to build their team out of veterans and value signings, leading to a practical, usually effective, yet unsexy product on the field.
Amid those factors, and the impending opportunities and challenges of the new stadium in Southwest D.C., United have decided to refresh their beloved club crest for the 2016 season, a break with tradition that was unveiled at a hip gathering of season-ticket holders and club officials at D.C.’s Union Market on Thursday evening.
SoccerWire.com caught up with Tom Hunt, United’s chief operating officer and the driving force behind the rebrand, to discuss this move and others that lie ahead as the Black-and-Red move into a new era.
SoccerWire: Looks like a strong turnout and a warm reception for the new look tonight. How does it feel?
Tom Hunt: I feel great, what a great event, absolutely – part of our message about us going through our transformation … Totally on point and on brand, with our rework and our new logo.
SW: How did this process begin, and unfold?
TH: This was the culmination of a lot of work. About 18 months ago we embarked on some research to better understand what our brand health was in the market was. Obviously we were well aware of all the trophies we’ve won and the fans we’ve had in the past, but the truth is, we need to develop a new fan base moving forward.
When you look at our season ticket base and we start to think about our new stadium, we’ve got to get to 12-13,000 season ticket holders – so we’ve got a lot of work to do. We started to realize that first of all, our point of difference was the fact that we are D.C. And we represent what is very cool and hip about D.C. We are not Washington. There’s a connotation about Washington that’s polarizing, it’s politics, it’s power, but in the wrong way. Especially with the elections and everything that’s happening in the political world right now – the reason why you’ve got [presidential candidates Donald] Trump and [Ben] Carson doing what they’re doing is because there’s a dissatisfaction with what’s taking place in Washington.
That’s not who we are. We’re the District. We’re what’s cool and happening. We’re Dupont Circle, we’re U Street, we’re The Yards – all the cool places, all the diverse communities that make up the District. That’s who we are, that’s who we want to appeal to. So when we put a stake in the ground about who we are from a positioning [standpoint], that’s how we want to approach the market. We’ve got to get more fans. We’ve got to appeal to that millennial fanbase, we’ve got to appeal to all those soccer enthusiasts that haven’t selected DC United as their team of choice. And tonight’s the first step in that.
SW: With the new stadium still more than two years away, why rebrand now, and not when it opens?
TH: I think we need to build up to that. It is all part of the narrative about the transformation. This was a great start. 2018’s going to be unbelievable, but we also have to build for the future even beyond 2018. So we’ve got a lot of exciting things in the hopper. We’ve got a sales and marketing center that we’re building for our new stadium that’s going to be in this same area [Union Market], which is an up-and-coming millennial hotbed.
We’re going to be about a block up with our sales and marketing preview center [Union Market] downstairs will likely be a great social gathering for us as we’re doing the face-to-face one-on-one with people, and we’re going to take them to a preview center that’s going to be phenomenal … We’ll have probably 30 suites to sell in the new facility and 2,000 premium seats, naming rights and founding partnerships and all of those good things. This preview center is going to be the crux of what we’re trying to do, so that’s going to be very exciting for us.
SW: This new logo will appear on new home uniforms next season. Can fans expect changes to their team’s first-choice kit as well?
TH: No, we love the home kit. I think other than some of the nuances that we have that we’ll be unveiling when we’re allowed to unveil it coming up in February [at] our Pinstripes event [in Georgetown] that we do for all of our season ticket members, which is a phenomenal event.
That’s where the big unveil will happen. So the neck tape and the jock tag and all those cool things that will be a part of that will be unveiled.