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Was Pepco's $25M Deal For DC United Naming Rights A Case Of 'Pay-To-Play?'

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The new stadium for DC United at Buzzards Point would have several streets named for Pepco as part of the $25M deal.
DC United
The new stadium for DC United at Buzzards Point would have several streets named for Pepco as part of the $25M deal.

Pepco recently inked a deal with D.C. to pay $25 million for naming rights near the planned soccer stadium for DC United. But the timing of the deal — along with the generous payout and scant details — have some questioning whether it's connected to the controversial merger agreement between the city government and the power companies Pepco and Exelon.

For opponents of the proposed merger, like Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the $25 million naming rights deal doesn't add up. He says the agreement is far more generous for the city than any other naming rights deal in the country, particularly because Pepco is paying the money upfront. Tidwell thinks that's odd, considering the rights are for an area around the stadium, not the stadium itself.

On top of that, he says the agreement was signed around the same time D.C. reached a deal with Pepco and Exelon over its nearly $7 billion merger.

"It's our conclusion that this payment was not about the soccer stadium," says Tidwell. "It was not about naming rights to a street next to the soccer stadium, it is a 'pay-to-play' payment that curries favor with the mayor and encouraged her to settle with the merger that Pepco wants with Exelon. There's almost no other conclusion that you can draw."

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the watchdog group Public Citizen are releasing a research paper on the sponsorship agreement. They argue that the two-page agreement — while legal — is unprecedented.

"Why so much money? Why pay completely upfront? Why pay with such a simple contract?" says Tidwell.

Both the D.C. government and the power companies deny any connection between the naming rights deal and the merger settlement.

Mike Czin, a spokesman for Mayor Muriel Bowser, says Pepco has been part of the soccer stadium negotiations for years — well before the merger between Pepco and Exelon was proposed.

And Myra Oppel with Pepco says the naming rights agreement isn't related to the merger. The energy company has land near the stadium site and development in the area will increase its value.

D.C.’s public service commission is expected to decide whether to approve the merger in the next month or two.

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