Video: Fans from DC United Supporter Groups La Barra Brava and District Ultras march before inaugural game at team’s new home stadium, Audi Field on July 14th. They were protesting an exclusive arrangement between a third fan group, Screaming Eagles, and the DC United Football Club, to manage supporter culture. They say the deal effectively excludes them from the new stadium they helped make a reality.
As DC United prepared for their inaugural game Saturday evening against the Vancouver Whitecaps, fans protested outside Audi Field (100 Potomac Ave SW).
Protesters congregated at Finn McCools (713 Eighth Street) at 3 p.m., later taking shuttle buses to Canal Park. The march proceeded from Canal Park to Audi Field, with about 100 people shouting, “Stadium for All!” and “Vamos United!” and singing in both English and in Spanish.
The group gathered with their drums and signs outside the stadium entrance holding signs that read “Equal Ticket Access for ALL groups” and “Stop excluding BB and DU!” BB and DU refer to La Barra Brava and District Ultras, two of the three DC United Fan groups, the third group being Screaming Eagles.
In February, DC United entered into a partnership with the Eagles (SE), who became a 501 (c) (4) non-profit in 2004, to “take the lead role to manage all aspects of the supporter culture including single game supporter tickets sales for both home and road matches as well as organizing all activities and in-game fan experiences in the north end zone, in an effort to further unite the Black-and-Red supporter base that established the benchmark for U.S. soccer supporter culture in the early years of Major League Soccer,” the team said in a press release.
La Barra Brava was established in 1996, the year DC United began playing. La Barra Brava Elder Jay Igiel explained that the organization has its roots in South American style support and has many Latino and Hispanic members.
“Barra Brava is not a registered non-profit because we never felt that the additional cost was warranted,” he said. “We do not have over $50k in the [bank] like the SE making tax exempt status necessary.”
According to Igiel, members of Barra Brava and District Ultras tend to be more blue-collar than the more white-collar members of Screaming Eagles.
‘No one really understands’
La Barra Brava and District Ultras members say that they have been unfairly excluded from ticket-buying arrangements and from a supporter culture in the stadium that they helped create, an arrangement that had helped many members of the group obtain tickets that might otherwise have been inaccessible.
“The people who you see here in front of you are the same people who went to DC city council meetings and to marches eight years ago to advocate for this beautiful new stadium,” said one protester, who identified himself as Nick. “And now they are excluded from this stadium for reasons that really no one understands.”
The deal exclusively offers the Screaming Eagles the opportunity to purchase tickets for resale. When the team was at RFK, La Barra Brava and District Ultras could also buy groups of season tickets from the team and resell them to their members.
The groups sold them at a mark-up, which covered event expenses.
La Barra Brava members bristle at suggestions that they were acting as for-profit ticket resellers. Igiel said their standard ticket price was $23 for members and $25 for non-members, including free food, drinks and beer at pre-game parties.
“I have never been paid or received money from the Barra as compensation. My time and effort is 100% volunteered,” he said. “If anything, I have spent thousands out of pocket supporting the group.”
“The SE/FO [Front Office] partnership puts the Screaming Eagles in charge of managing the supporter culture of DC United,” Igiel added. “No group should have the right to control, manage or direct another group.”
Boycott of Supporter Section
Igiel said that as Barra Brava has not been consulted about the supporter’s section since October 2017, they will boycott it, leaving drums, signs, flags and chants behind as they continue to attend DC United games.
DC United did not immediately respond to a request for comment. This article will be updated when a response is received.
The District team went on to win the inaugural game 3-1, a triumph on the field. Off the field, a piece of railing fell from section 111, reportedly grazing sideline reporter Lindsay Simpson, landing on her shoulder. WTOP reported with the Barra Brava and District Ultra members watching the game quietly, the atmosphere inside the stadium on inaugural day started out subdued.
The protest had ended just before kick-off, and true to their word, participants from La Barra Brava and District Ultras, walked back along Potomac Ave, returning their signs and drums to their shuttle bus. Those who could not afford tickets climbed aboard to watch the game at Finn McCools. Those who had tickets quietly went into Audi Field.