Ask any long-time DC area resident what comes to mind when they hear ‘RFK’ and it may conjure up memories of Frank Howard slugging the ball out of the park in the ‘60s for the Washington Senators, or concerts by artists such as the Beatles, The Jackson 5 and U2. Most likely it will bring a flood of reminiscing about the most popular tenant – the Washington Redskins.
The ‘Sons of Washington’ won all three of their Super Bowl titles while calling RFK home and have yet to capture that magic at their new residence. The Senators left town in the early 70’s and while the Nationals called Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium home for a few years after they relocated from Montreal, they too moved on to their new address at Nationals Park in 2008.
Opened as DC Stadium in 1961, the current home of the DC United was renamed to honor the memory of the Senator from Massachusetts in January of 1969, months after his death. The stadium held over 56,000 for football, but the current capacity is 19,467 as the upper deck has been closed to create a more intimate setting for soccer. DC United is currently signed to play at RFK through the 2013 season as it works to secure a new stadium in another location in the DC metro area.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
As you walk around the concourse of RFK scouting out your dining options for the evening, don't settle for the typical fare that you can get at most any sporting event. Sure, they have hot dogs, pizza, chicken tenders and cheesesteaks all priced with what you would expect at a professional stadium and if you don't like trying something different, it will suffice.
If you want a good dish with a Central American flair, head over to the portal that leads you to section 131 and you will find a stand that sells quesadillas, carne asada and my favorite - pupusas. These are corn tortillas filled with a mozzarella-like cheese (and pork if you choose) and then grilled. They are served with a side of a vinegary cabbage and some hot sauce. They make them fresh right in front of you and they are delicious. You get 3 for $6 and for me is one of the best deals in the stadium.
Pepsi is the soda provider at RFK and you can get a large fountain souvenir cup for $6. Bottles are also available for $5. There are a variety of beer choices with most domestics at $8 and imports cost $10. If you're looking for something sweet, bypass the candy that you can buy at your local grocery store and pick yourself up a churro for $2, another decent value for your money.
If you just don't want to get up during the game, you can order food from your mobile device from your seat. Options are a lot less than what you will find in the concourse and there are some price differences, but if convenience is your game it may work for you. You can check out what the stadium offers here. You will have to register and there is a delivery charge, but it's worth checking out.
Upon entering the largest parking lot (#8), you will find a variety of food trucks, beer tents and fans tailgating. There are picnic tables close by and also cornhole boards that are free to use. DC United and their fans do a decent job of creating a fun atmosphere outside of the stadium before the game.
Once you get your ticket scanned and enter RFK, the reality that you are in a dinosaur of a stadium hits you. It's dark, it's concrete and it's a little depressing. Besides the concession stands and a team shop, there isn't much else to see as you wander the halls of the stadium. There are some TVs hanging from the ceiling that show gameplay, but they are small and the view is fuzzy so they are really not even worth having.
Where you sit depends on what kind of experience you are looking for. If you want to be with a loud and boisterous crowd, sit on the supporter side (130s, 230s, and 330s). If you enjoy a more relaxed and laid back audience, the side behind the benches will suit you fine. There are portals for you to enter that lead you to numerous sections grouped together. If you haven't been to the stadium before, you may have a little trouble finding your section as they are not clearly marked, but there are plenty of ushers in bright yellow shirts that will help you find your seat. Seat numbers run from right to left when you are facing the field and are easily visible on the seat back.
The scoreboard is located in the south end of the stadium and gives you the basics of the game - and that's it. The lack of any stats or out of town scores is a big miss in the overall fan experience. Next to the scoreboard is a video screen that showed live play and some replays, but much like the small screens in the concourse, they are quite useless. As the sun sets in the evening it is hard to see the screen with the glare and when it is finally dark enough to be able to see it clearly, there appear to be dark patches in the middle of the screen. The PA system is not much better, as it is very hard to hear and understand what is being said by the announcer.
Let's face it, RFK is not going to wow you with a bunch of amenities that newer stadiums have, so the fans have to create their own great atmosphere.
If you're looking for something to do in the neighborhood after the game, get in your car (or the Metro) and go look somewhere else. RFK is not located in the best of neighborhoods and isn't a place you would want to hang out post-game. If you are going to be in the area during the daytime before the game, Eastern Market is a fresh food public market and you can find some good eats here, along with some arts and crafts. It is located about two miles away by car and is also accessible by Metro two stops from the stadium.
Within a 10-30 minute Metro ride, you have access to all of the great attractions our nation's capital has to offer. Off of the Orange or Blue line alone, you have access to the Smithsonian museums, Arlington Cemetery and Old Town Alexandria. If you're in town visiting, washington.org will help you plan your time here.
By far the best aspect of the experience at a DC United match is the involvement of the fan base. The stands were about half full at the game I most recently attended, but when I closed my eyes and just listened, it sounded like it was a standing room only event. I sat on the supporter side and those fans just don't give up. A majority of the fans on that side of the stadium stand for the entire game - cheering, chanting, waving flags, beating drums, you've got it all.
La Barra Brava, the Screaming Eagles and La Norte are the major groups you will find on the supporter side during a game at RFK. If you get queasy easily, this area is not for you. The stands shake - constantly. Think of an airplane going through some major turbulence and that will give you an idea of what to expect when sitting with these passionate fans. They are for their team from opening kickoff to the final whistle, even if the team's play in 2013 doesn't equate to what the fan base is accustomed to. Kudos to them for their support and love of their DC United team.
Depending on how you travel to the game, your ease of access varies. The Metro, DC's subway system, has a stop (Stadium-Armory) on the Orange and Blue line and is at most a 10 minute walk to the stadium. It is very convenient and if you don't like traffic, it is your best option. If you're comfortable driving in DC, the stadium is right off of Route 295, which is accessible from the north or south. The team's website does a good job with directions and diagrams.
Parking is plentiful - and it's $15, cash only. This a little steep considering supply vs. demand (there are lots of empty spaces), so take this into consideration if you are on a budget as Metro may be less expensive for you. If you are planning to tailgate and enjoy the pregame festivities, Lot 8 would be for you. If you want easy in and out, head for Lot 4. It's small and kind of hidden, but it's convenient. In addition, the first 50 Volkswagens in Lot 4 for each game park for free.
Once inside, there is a sufficient amount of accessible seating and restrooms are located throughout the main concourse and are cleaner than I expected for a stadium of this age.
For a single game, box office ticket prices range from $26 for end line seats to $55 for mezzanine seats which are up higher and give you the best sight lines of the pitch. Sideline/midfield tickets are $35-$45. A decent seat along with hot dog, two beers and a snack will cost you about $65 and don't forget to add your transportation in also.
While the ticket prices appear to be somewhat in line with other MLS stadiums, the play on the field in 2013 and the lack of amenities in an older stadium would make fans cautious about spending part of their entertainment budget at a DC United game.
The team has a great history and they are four-time MLS Champions. You will find their banners in the south end zone.
The passion of the fans can't be overstated. They have a love affair with DC United and it's great to see them standing behind their team even during what will probably turn out as their worst season in franchise history.
RFK has a rich and storied history, but the team and its fan base both deserve a new stadium. Until that time, the fan experience for a DC United game will continue to lag behind most other MLS cities.
DC United is the most decorated club in the history of Major League Soccer. Rich in tradition with passionate fans, United play in RFK Stadium, the second oldest venue in the league, built in 1961. When the Houston Dynamo move into their new venue in 2011, the DC will stand alone with the oldest stadium in the league. United make do with what they have, but the most storied club in league history deserve a new venue.
I mean, I've definitely seen worse. RFK definitely has a certain charm. But it pales in comparison to other soccer-specific venues in this country.
My RFK experience is from the short time frame that the Nationals spent there, from 2005-2007, but I sure hope DC United have improved upon the massive shortcomings I experienced there.
On the afternoon I went, which was an extremely-hot August 2005 weekday, the fans were non-existent; granted, the team just moved from Montreal and were all-but-out of the playoffs, so they were going to be pretty apathetic. And because it was super-hot in a concrete bowl, there was no escaping the heat.
The only bright spots were the ample parking (and easy connection to the Washington Metro) and the fact you're just minutes from all the popular tourist spots in DC; the immediate neighborhood, though, is something to be desired.
So, I hope DC United have been able to turn the place around, because it's not like the glory days of Redskins; then again, the cookie-cutter stadiums were never something to behold anyway.
Old decrepid building that moves no matter what level you are on.
Food & beverage - decent and average for a stadium, nothing special
Atmosphere - great in some areas of the stadium, dead in others
Access - easy to get to from car or subway.
Fans - great but sparse compared to other MLS stadiums.
Return on Investment - really do not feel like the stadium was worth the price of the ticket.
My dad loves Chevy El Caminos. Apparently they were popular for a while. So popular, in fact, that there were even a few knock-offs. Who else remembers the Subaru Brat?
I never got the appeal of the El Camino. I still can't tell if I find them more hideous or ridiculous, but it doesn't really matter. My dad's is now more than 25 years, which, by law, makes it a historic antique collectible in his state. I can no longer deny the history nor the appeal, even if it's not for everyone.
Well, that's RFK Stadium.
I started watching MLS after college, and DCU was looking for a new stadium. Somehow, 10 years have gone by. MLB briefly returned to RFK, then left, then a family of racoons moved in. From what I hear, the racoons haven't left, and neither has United.
(The RFK stadium site has a complicated federal status. That status has combined with a whole host of local politics to make DCU's stadium search a Sisyphean task.)
At 51, RFK has seen better days. But even in its prime, it probably wouldn't score highly on this site. It's a "multipurpose concrete donut." If you've ever been to one of the 60s-era cookie-cutters (Three Rivers Stadium, QualComm, Busch, the Vet, etc.), then you've essentially been to RFK. It's one of the last examples of an unfortunate-if-practical era in stadium design.
But unlike most of its class, RFK is still standing. It's a window into a different era of stadia. This is how millions of people saw their first games. If you look around, you can still spot some of the original wooden seats. It's a throwback--not to a classic era, but to a different and acceptable one. Stadiums of this era weren't as nice as the ones we have now, but they were a whole lot more cost-effective. And they had some other benefits, too.
DCU has a decent fan club culture. The tailgates are great (it's easy to drive in or take the metro. Or take a LONG, only slightly ill-advised, walk from the touristy parts of DC). And if you feel the stadium shaking...like, really, seriously shaking...it's ok; that's just the fan clubs making the most of this old place. If you want to get beer poured on you, sit with the fan clubs. If you want to watch them do their thing while staying dry, sit behind them. If you want no part of it, ask for a seat on the "quiet side." There's a place for everyone here, from drunken frat boys to 5th birthday parties and everyone in between.
United games are great, but RFK's a dump. But I love many dumps, and I hope this one never goes away. That day will come, and it will both be far too soon, and not nearly soon enough.
Tip: Washington, DC, has a large El Salvadorian expat population. So large, in fact, the El Salvador's national soccer team plays occasional home games here. Regardless of who is playing, though, you taste (literally) the Salvadorean influence on the pupusa stand on the second level. By far the best food in the stadium and, by default, that entire part of town.
LOOK RFK ITS HAPPNIN K??? SO WHAT IF TIS not wild, not and other things dc socer fans lovie it untill they get a new staidum in the area!!! but this is a ncie leigt bleepin historic place!!!
The age, size, and design (for baseball and NFL) hurt the atmosphere greatly and there are plans for a soccer-specific facility in DC that I hope work out. Stadium is in a rather lifeless part of DC but has easy Metro and bus access to/from the more lively parts of town.
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