Sacramento Republic making a strong case to become a Major League Soccer franchise

May 29, 2014 6 Comments

Sacramento Republic FC Wood Logo

I know what you’re thinking. Why should I spend time reading an article about the United Soccer Leagues’ (USL) and its new soccer club the Sacramento Republic FC? I mean, we are talking about a minor league soccer team, so who really cares right? Well, if you believe that (and that’s fine), you’d be missing out on an electrifying story of a soccer club that has caught the national attention of the soccer world, and more importantly, Major League Soccer (MLS) literally overnight.

How so? In its inaugural match versus the Harrisburg City Islanders on April 26, Sacramento Republic filled Hughes Stadium on the campus of Sacramento City College with 20,231 fans, which was a USL regular season record. Keep in mind this was a MINOR league soccer match and in the history of the league only the 2013 USL Championship between Orlando City SC and Charlotte Eagles at the Citrus Bowl that drew 20,886 a larger crowd.

But the Republic fans didn’t stop there. In its next two home games, Sacramento drew 17,414 versus the Orange County Blues FC on May 3 and another sellout on May 17 against the LA Galaxy II. And let me tell you something – I was there for the home opener, and this wasn’t 20,000 people sitting on their hands trying to understand the game of soccer. Fueled by the boisterous Tower Bridge Battalion (@Sac_Battalion), the club’s independent supporter group, the crowd feverishly followed and supported the back-and-forth action on the pitch in a tight 1-2 Republic loss.

For anyone that has lived in Sacramento or knows the area, an enthusiastic welcoming of the Republic is not surprising. Sacramento has historically supported its professional sports – from the NBA Sacramento Kings (sold out 19 of 29 years) – to the Sacramento River Cats (Oakland Athletics AAA affiliate) who have consistently been one of the highest drawing minor league baseball teams since 2000 (and has on occasion even outdrawn the big club in Oakland). Sacramento has also shown strong support for track field, hosting and selling out the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in 2000 and 2004, and the list goes on.

Sacramento Republic FC

Max capacity at Hughes Stadium on Opening Night

But even beyond the unwavering support from the city, what is really driving much of the interest in the Republic is the fact the Sacramento Region is really a hotbed for soccer. There is great youth soccer clubs in Elk Grove United and Placer United and historically good high school programs in Jesuit, Davis and St. Francis, to name a few. Interestingly, also fueling the interest in the Republic is the overall desire of Sacramento to shed its sleepy, political town moniker and become a world class, destination city. The new downtown arena for the NBA Kings will kick start this transition, but many envision (including me) that a MLS team with a state-of-the-art soccer facility will only fuel that growth and transition by attracting new restaurants, bars and living space to an area of Sacramento that is frankly untapped.

Ultimately for Sacramento and the Republic, becoming a MLS city probably comes down to a little luck and shoring up the money and investors to make it happen. I say a little luck because currently, there are 19 MLS teams with New York FC (20th team) and Orlando City SC (21st team) joining the MLS next year, with Atlanta (22nd) and Miami (23rd) joining in 2017. That would leave one spot, according to MLS President Don Garber who said he wanted to expand to 24 teams by 2020, and a crowded field of cities are lining up for that last spot, including Sacramento, Minneapolis, San Antonio and Las Vegas. Could the league expand beyond 24 teams? Perhaps, but MLS has approached expansion strategically, which has allowed the league to grow in popularity organically, so my guess is that’s probably not on the table right now.

From a monetary/investor standpoint, this may be the largest mountain to climb. Does the current ownership group have the capital and/or investors lined up to pull it together? A temporary 8,000 seat stadium is set to open in early June, but a permanent a soccer facility would need to be part of the equation, similar to the situation in Miami. Is it realistic to get the city to help fund on some level on the heels of a new arena being built? Seems unlikely.

News broke this week that a coalition is circulating a plan that would raise the county sales tax to fund local governments, arts organizations and interestingly, a new soccer facility. The plan would need approval from voters, but it could be put before voters as early as this November. It is estimated that the sales tax increase would raise $25.3 million the first year.

Yes, there are lots of moving pieces and uncertainty. But one thing I do know is this. Sacramento’s support of the Republic hasn’t fallen on deaf ears in the offices of the MLS, and the city and club is certainly positioning itself to receive SERIOUS consideration for expansion. Whether that will be enough is anyone’s guess, but if Sacramento continues to produce sell out crowds which exceed those of many current MLS franchises, the league would be foolish to turn their backs on a success story in the making.

While Sacramentans wait for the day the Republic becomes a professional franchise, I dare you to watch this video and NOT get fired up for soccer. Glory, Glory Sacramento indeed.

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6 Responses to “Sacramento Republic making a strong case to become a Major League Soccer franchise”

  1. Mike Conner says:

    Orlando City is a USL squad as well. And that didn’t stop MLS from looking at a club that has a lot of fan support and owners with deep pockets. Sacramento could be the next Orlando…it will likely be a team that will fit in the western conference.

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