The football team that calls the nation’s capital home may have Washington in its name, but it hasn’t actually played football in the District of Columbia since 1997, when it moved to Landover, Maryland’s shiny new FedEx Field.
Washington moved its practice facility to Richmond, Virginia before this season, and during its first training camp back in the commonwealth, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) stopped by to say hello. That wasn’t the only purpose of McDonnell’s visit, though. He was also floating the idea that the team should move its home games to a new stadium in northern Virginia.
The team’s lease in Landover doesn’t end until 2027, but stadium leases don’t mean anything. McDonnell’s talks with the franchise are preliminary, but they’re also dangerous, since McDonnell’s attempts to woo the team could ultimately start a tri-”state” bidding war that drives up the cost of a new stadium for taxpayers anywhere the team lands.
Maryland obviously has an interest in keeping the football team. FedEx Field, after all, is still less than 20 years old. D.C. also wants to bring the team back home, perhaps back to its old location where RFK Stadium sits now. City council members are split on whether such a stadium should receive public financing, especially after the disaster that was Nationals Park (the looming disaster that will be the D.C. United’s new home may only make that worse). But if owner Daniel Snyder professes any interest at all in moving back to the District, council members will fall all over themselves trying to be the first to hand him a check. Now Virginia is at least hinting at throwing its hat in the ring.
None of these options, of course, will result in positive returns for taxpayers in the DMV area. Stadiums aren’t the growth engines proponents say they are. Studies show that basketball arenas don’t drive growth, and they’re easy to surround with other development. A football stadium surrounded by acres of asphalt parking lots is even worse.
But such a fight would give Snyder exactly what he wants — a chance to get a lavish new stadium without even having to resort to empty threats to move the team out of the area altogether. No matter where the team ends up in this area, it’ll still be Washington’s in name. No matter what Bob McDonnell, who’d seem to have a few bigger problems on his plate than where an NFL team plays its home games, has to gain from this ploy the winner in a DMV royal rumble over the team’s home won’t be Virginians or Marylanders or people who live in D.C.. It’ll be Dan Snyder. That is, unless area residents (and politicians) make an unpopular owner whose football team is worth more than a billion dollars pay for any new stadium on his own.