WASHINGTON — A phone call between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is breathing new life into the dreams of Washington Commanders fans who want the team back at the site of its past glory: RFK.
WUSA9 has learned the NFL is now working with DC to ensure the RFK site is an option when the team picks the location of its new stadium.
On background, a source with knowledge of the situation told WUSA9 Commissioner Goodell and Mayor Bowser spoke by phone in early December, and the Commissioner expressed the leagues support for the Mayor and the city to have a seat at the table as it relates to the Commander’s new stadium.
Mayor Bowser’s office declined to comment on the call. In a statement, the NFL did not comment on the call directly but confirmed the NFL’s interest in keeping the RFK site a possibility.
“The league and Mayor Bowser agree that Washington, D.C., should be at the table when a new site is considered,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told WUSA9. “We will continue to work with the mayor’s office, the Commanders, and Congress to that end – just like we are in contact with local officials in Maryland and Virginia as they review site and stadium options."
A Commanders spokesperson told WUSA9 it was aware of the phone call between Goodell and Bowser.
"We continue to pursue all options across multiple sites in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia,” a team spokesperson wrote in an email. “And those efforts include supporting District leaders in securing rights to the RFK site so the city can determine how best to use the land for economic, social, and community growth."
“The NFL definitely wants a new stadium in Washington, D.C.” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a Professor of Sports Management at the GW School of Business.
“Most importantly it’s a large, wealthy market. And secondly the NFL values its relationship with legislators,” Neirotti said.
Congress is one of the major obstacles to a new stadium on the 190-acre RFK Site. The District currently leases the federally owned land from the government, and Congress would have to give its approval for the Commanders to build a new stadium there, either by selling the land back to the District outright, or extending and amending the current lease to allow a new stadium to be built there.
“The NFL not only has sway, it has money” Neirotti said, noting the leagues strong lobbying presence in Congress to protect its anti-trust exemption.
An amendment to the lease for the RFK site would likely have to allow for new retail and housing, all sticking points to get any stadium deal approved by DC Council.
Nine months ago long-time stadium opponent, Councilmember Charles Allen, released a letter signed by seven D.C. Councilmembers opposing the use of the RFK site for a football stadium. Enough votes to block any stadium plan.
But two of those stadium opponents, Mary Cheh and Elissa Silverman, aren’t on Council anymore. And a third, Janeese Lewis George, declined to take a position when asked in WUSA9 poll of Councilmembers: "Are you open to a discussing a new Washington Commanders stadium on the RFK site if Daniel Snyder no longer owns, or is associated with, the franchise?"
“You can tell when you have the votes the day the vote is taken,” said former D.C. Councilperson Jack Evans, who helped spearhead approval for construction of Nationals Park in Southeast nearly 20 years ago.
“Until then people will be cautious because they don’t want to put up with the criticism from the anti-stadium type of individuals,” said Evans.
In fact, more councilmembers told WUSA9 they were open to a stadium discussion than against it – if Snyder sells the team.
“Constructing sports stadiums is never a popular idea in the public until its done,” Evans said, noting Nationals Park’s positive financial impact on the District since it opened.
All this comes as plans for a Commanders stadium in Northern Virginia continues to hit roadblocks in the Virginia legislature.
In a statement, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore’s office said he looks forward to continuing the team’s 25-year partnership with Prince George’s County. Moore’s spokesperson said his administration is moving forward with $400 million in funding to support economic and transportation investments along the Blue Line Corridor near FedEx Field.
Moore’s office said he looks forward to continuing conversations with the Commanders about our vision for the future of the Commanders in Maryland.