Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The view from Erick Thohir's lofty perch

I say it's a lofty perch, but this is like, total cloud-skimming stuff from Thohir here.

"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.


"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


strago said...

I think Erick knows how to and will market globally . For heavens sake, he owns many, many media outlets in Indonesia. That's an untapped market right there.

I for one, am beyond ecstatic at this news. We now have the pockets to compete with anyone in the league financially.

Tom said...

I honestly don't know why people hate RFK. Aside from the obvious "they don't own it" and "therefore can't generate revenue from it elsewise," I just never got it.

It may not be a gleaming obelisk of a stadium or in a fantastic location, but I just plain *like* that venue.

De gustibus, I say.

Will Parchman said...

I guess it comes down to preference, Tom, but you're honestly the first person I've come across who's defended it as a soccer venue. I've always thought it was a crumbling old superstructure that doesn't fit the needs of a soccer stadium at all. It's way too big, it's coming apart and it's hideously ugly, but again, that's my opinion.

Unknown said...

RFK has had it's time. The fact that DCU is losing money every year is the biggest issue. However, RFK has no amenities, few food options, anituquated bathroom facilities. If you are lucky there are two working ATM's. I've had great times there, but it is time to move on. The only thing that I will miss is being able to tailgate before the game. If they can set up a situation where you can tailgate at a new stadium, then there is nothing that RFK would have over a new stadium.

That being said. Until I'm watching a game in the new stadium I won't believe it is actually happening. The DC government is incredibly corrupt and will work any angle to throw up roadblocks to improve it's end of the deal. That can be for the governmnet itself or any individual working their own angle. I was there at RFK the day that Mayor Fenty promised a new stadium within three years. That was about eight years ago.

UnitedDemon said...

71@Tom- pieces of concrete literally fall off sometimes. There are only three advantages to it. 1) It's in DC 2) it's full of memories and 3) the seats bounce. But the club desperately needs to get out of there to have any hope of financial and existential security. The fact that DC is finally capable of getting one is the story.

@Will- not sure why everyone is getting in a tizzy about global branding comments. It's good to have ambitions, to want to get the most out of ownership. The only reason this language is being used is because the owners are aware how close DC came to a fate worse than death- Baltimore. They're the white knights in this fairy tale, and they're feeling it at a press conference.

Will Parchman said...

That's fine, UD. Like I said, there's nothing concretely negative about this, and if I were a United fan I'd be happy today. It just generally came off sounding like enthusiastic rhetoric to me.

dikranovich said...

pacman willy, rfk has hosted some of the best soccer games in this country. usa v jamaica 98 world cup qualifer, hands down best atmosphere for a soccer game ever in the usa, outside of the world cup.

interestingly enough, the second best atmosphere might be the cosmos v the strikers, soccer bowl 81 or 80. i wonder which team has a bigger name brand world wide, the cosmos or dc united? maybe from that perspective, that where the owners are coming from.

and when the bleachers start bouncing up and down, that is very cool.

Tom said...

I like the bouncy seats, too, and I guess I've not been aware of actual physical crumbling.

My preferences regarding amenities are fairly spartan, so, there you go.

strago said...

Shrug, I love RFK. It may be a rat and raccoon infected, concrete falling, hole in the bouncing stand mess...

But it's DC United's home and it's an amazing place to watch a soccer match even at this point in time.

Unknown said...

I've always somewhat secretly hoped the stadium could just be bought from the city and renovated, but no one in position to do so's ever been real high on the idea.

dikranovich said...

all the sentiment about rfk, and there is a lot. the dead, the diesel, u2, the boss, art monk, eddie pope, johnny harkes, joey t, cruyff, the who, the hogs, the smurfs, el diablo, and the list goes on and on and on. but it will be nice to have a new ultra retro, ultra hip stadium, hopefully about 35 grand capacity, maybe 40 k.

Will Parchman said...

35-40K seating is incredibly ambitious.

dikranovich said...

pacman, i understand where you are coming from. for sure, the template for stadiums is smaller, but alot of these clubs are also in smaller markets, like kc, or rsl, or the original, columbus crew. and truthfully, even the big city markets dont have downtown stadiums, they are in the suburbs.

do you think dc united should be following the model of teams that are in smaller markets? then there is the ambition of dc united and i think anyone that is paying attention can see that this team is gearing up to win more than just an MLS cup.

going back to the cosmos, when you look at their attendance numbers from 1977 to 1982, i think that is a place where teams in this league will aspire to.

Daniel said...

I was also concerned by Thohir's talk of being able to make decisions concerning players. That's an absolute no-no. (See Daniel Synder)

If anything, he can talk with Kevin Payne and Dave Kasper, and then they can approach Olsen. But ultimately it must be Olsen's decision and if he's getting pressure from this big-perched fellow, it could skew Olsen's thinking in a way not conducive to the club.