WASHINGTON: There's more than one way to sell out a stadium. Fielding a solid team is the traditional method. Short of that, you can always showcase some hot young superstar who generates enough buzz to fill a ballpark. A new coach isn't a bad idea either.
Or you can just close off half the stadium and call it a day.
DC United did all of the above last week. Major League Soccer's flagship franchise - new home to 14-year-old phenom Freddy Adu, as well as a solid team and a new head coach - sold 24,603 tickets to the 56,500-capacity RFK Stadium on opening day and called it a sellout. That's some fancy footwork.
It may seem an odd move for a team at the center of a full-blown media frenzy. After all, when's the last time a US soccer player was profiled on 60 Minutes? Or received simultaneous endorsement deals from Nike and Pepsi? Or was hailed globally as the next Pele? (Answers: never, never, and not recently.)
But even all the focus heaped on United after Adu's acquisition isn't enough to consistently sell 56,500 tickets to a soccer match in the US.
So for the entire 2004 season, the team won't try. Instead, they've closed the top half of aging RFK and declared "capacity" a subjective term.
Of course, it's not all PR. According to the game notes, the move was made "in anticipation of the projected seating capacity for a soccer-specific stadium." That makes sense. And few doubt that the team would have trouble this year consistently selling out more than half of RFK if they tried.
But a crowd of 24,000 packed into a small area looks better on TV than 30,000 fans loosely scattered. And Major League Soccer knows the world is watching: It issued press passes to media from as far away as Poland and Japan for the team's opener versus the San Jose Earthquakes.
It's good to know that when the world's eyes are upon us, our version of everyone else's favorite sport isn't afraid to sell out.