"It’s very important to build a strong team in the first two years," Thohir said. "After you have this strong team, then you advertise the team to other countries through new media, tours, building a soccer academy, coaching clinics, then everything else.
"If you also do well on that side, then many fans will fly to D.C. and become suporters also. That’s what you see with Manchester United. Many Japanese supporters come and many Chinese supporters come [to watch Man. United]."
Let's pump the brakes for a moment.
In some respects this is completely understandably New Owner Jargon. What else is he supposed to say? "I fully expect for us to challenge for wild card spots and to add more rotted bathrooms to RFK's upper deck?" Thohir was 50 percent of an ownership team that just bought into DC United's future, and Tuesday marked his official unveiling along with Jason Levien, both of whom joined William Chang as co-owners. Thohir wasted little time throwing these hyperbolic nuggets back at reporters about global brands and marketing and Manchester United in Asia and MLK.
That last bit? Yeah. That happened, though Thohir ceded the floor to Chang, who offered us this brief moment of insanity.
"I’d like to borrow a quote form Martin Luther King from his famous speech," Chang said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
OGOD STOP NOW.
"My first dream for D.C. United is to find a permanent home. The second dream is to turn D.C. United into a global brand. And in Jason and Erick, I’ve found the perfect partners to fulfill my dreams."
Thohir is an admitted soccer junkie, and that's okay. But it doesn't mean anything in a literal sense. It's worked for Mark Cuban in basketball. Not so much for Mike Brown in football. So that Thohir apparently can rattle off a deep rolodex of international players is a fact we'll leave for posterity to judge, because it doesn't mean he can adequately manage a franchise. It means he can work the FIFA '12 transfer engine quickly. What matters now is that Thohir and his backing group can provide the impetus to kick-start DC's stadium project in earnest and, perhaps even more importantly, keep it in DC. They said all the right things Tuesday to that effect, which should have DC fans cautiously optimistic. Of course they've heard all this before. And the Rusty Toilet Bowl in downtown DC still stands, and the Barra Brava still stands in it.
My immediate response to Thohir would've been to take this thing in baby steps. He sounded like an overheated toddler surrounded by toys, completely unsure which to pick up first, mixed with a starry-eyed European soccer fan. Global fans are fantastic. So is a global brand that that can reach Asia. But Thohir's press conference smacked of naiveté when it comes to the inner workings of MLS. The league is making strides to be sure, but to compare Uniteds in any capacity — DC and Manchester — is as silly as comparing a relatively well-off sports franchise's future to MLK's speech dedicated to untangling the bitter racial struggle of African-Americans in the 60's.
It's okay to thing big, but it's not necessarily okay to out-think your resources. A global marketing strategy for a brand that doesn't yet permeate its own country seems a bit premature (unless he's thinking in decades), and the stadium talk will have to come first. I understand Thohir needs to say something to get the lifers perked up and interested, but these Manchester United global parallels are paper thin. Again, it all just sounded a bit naive, like a couple years of success in MLS would somehow get a horde of Asians buying Perry Kitchen jerseys and attending DCU camps. I appreciate the guy's gusto, but it all rang a bit hollow to me. As a fan I'm listening for concrete truths that affect me and my enjoyment of the product, which encompasses the coaching staff, the player personnel and the facilities. Until United is a top tier MLS product in those three areas, as a fan I couldn't care less about global branding until the stadium-going experience is as good as it gets. All around.
What might worry me more than anything is not Thohir's vision but his desire to have a serious hand in personnel decisions. Ben Olsen said the two already sat down and chatted about players (and I may have been looking too deeply into this but Olsen came through a bit unsure despite his coach-speak), which can be a positive if the two can work harmoniously. But the ideal owner is one who knows his place as the font of capital and cedes the decision-making to the decision makers. I've seen far too much of Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder to believe owners overriding front office tacticians is anything but barrel-chested clout-pushing.
For now, DC fans can sleep soundly knowing one of their owners is deeply invested, both fiscally and mentally. There's nothing concretely negative about it yet. And if it gets DC a new stadium, the rest of this stuff may iron itself out. Because for now, the Rusty Toilet Bowl is most definitely not cutting the mustard.
- Will Parchman