- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2019

The schedule of summer events at Audi Field just got a lot busier.

France’s Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) announced Monday the inception of the EA Sports Ligue 1 Games, an offseason tournament this July for four of its top-division clubs at Audi Field, the home field that D.C. United opened in 2018. United will play a friendly with France’s Olympique de Marseille after the tournament wraps up.

The tournament will begin just two months after United hosts Spanish club Real Betis for a friendly this Wednesday. And June 5, the U.S. men’s national team visits Audi Field for the first time to play Jamaica in a CONCACAF Gold Cup tune-up.

All this, plus the XFL’s Washington team will call the stadium its home when the league starts up. It’s been open for less than a year, but Audi Field has become an attractive destination for more than just D.C. United and their MLS opponents — and an investment that’s paying off financial dividends for United as well.

The LFP would not disclose financial terms of the three-year agreement, but the league will pay D.C. United a fee for using Audi Field each of the next three summers. Title sponsor EA Sports will also cover part of the expenses for the event.

LFP chief executive Didier Quillot made it known his league wants to expand into the U.S. and China, with the goal of being considered one of Europe’s top three domestic leagues like the English Premier League and Bundesliga. In looking around the U.S., Quillot said Washington was an “obvious” first choice for several reasons.

“The club (D.C. United) is very dynamic. The stadium is very modern, very innovative in terms of technology, in terms of grass. There are more than 30 hospitality suites,” Quillot said.

Audi Field was also desirable for its capacity — 20,000 seats is neither too many to fill or too few to be excited about. Quillot further mused that Washington is home not only to the French embassy, but also some fans of French soccer.

Such offseason “tours” of other countries are the norm in European soccer. Laurent Colette, chief operating officer of Olympique de Marseille, likened it to musical artists going on tour to play live shows wherever their fans are.

In the first round on July 18, Montpellier will face Saint Etienne and Marseille will play Bordeaux.

The third-place and final games will be July 21, and D.C. United will take the pitch with Marseille July 24. Quillot touted an “aggressive ticketing policy” for fans to buy daylong tickets in the $30-40 range.

The stadium will generate ticket revenue for the U.S.’s match against Jamaica and other dates added to the calendar in between MLS games.

With Audi Field having cost more than $400 million to build, exhibitions like these can help United recoup the cost more quickly. But D.C. United executives also say it’s about bringing continued entertainment to the District’s soccer fans.

Washington, D.C. having four elite teams from Europe come to Audi Field shows the strength of the soccer market in the area,” said Andy Bush, United’s chief revenue officer. “We are excited to host the teams and look forward to giving fans a unique soccer experience.”

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