Interview with Sacramento Republic FC President Warren Smith

Jun 01, 2015 1 Comment

Sacramento Republic President Warren Smith

Prior to last Saturday’s Sacramento Republic FC match versus the Real Monarchs SLC, Sacramento Republic President Warren Smith was gracious enough to take time to talk with Sports Glutton about soccer, the Republic, its quest to become an MLS club, and how it all fits into making Sacramento a “better place to live, work and play.”

From bringing baseball in the Sacramento Rivercats and now bringing soccer in the Sacramento Republic FC to the city, you’re a pretty popular man in town. Can you talk about your vision behind bringing sports to the city? Was it as simple as seeing a market underserved, or was it more than that?

It was really a combination of everything. We in Sacramento deserve more and we’re a population base of almost three million people and are the most undeserved sports market in the country. We were second behind Orlando, they just got their MLS franchise, and we became number one. We also saw what happened with the Kings and how excited people were to keep them in town, and people have supported the River Cats, and yet there are more people that actually play this sport in this region than basketball, baseball and football combined. So, it just made all the economic sense because there is such a strong soccer market. We’re just trying to deliver on something that makes Sacramento a better place to live, work and play.

Talk about the Republic FC from its infancy to where it is today. What was your short and/or long term vision for the team? Is it more than what you expected, or is this where you’d thought things would be at this stage?

Well, we were very vocal about our plan. Year one, [draw] 6,750 people per match. Year three, be awarded an MLS franchise. And year five, open up a downtown urban-core stadium. We blew those numbers away in year one, averaging attendance of over 10,000, and this year we’re going to average about the same number. But we didn’t have Hughes Stadium to skew those numbers (Republic played their first four matches at Hughes Stadium last season, which holds 20,000) and we’re arguably first in line for the next MLS franchise. So we’re right on target with what we said we wanted to do. Now we just need to execute on the stadium and we’ll have the franchise.

You’ve received a lot of well-deserved accolades for your work in the community, but can you talk about the team that you’ve built both on and off the field? You all seem laser-focused on becoming an MLS franchise….almost like you’re already operating like a MLS club.

We absolutely are. To give you an example, we have 42/43 full-time employees and the average team in our league has 16-18 [employees], and in MLS, you have 75-80 full-time employees, so we’re not there yet, but we’re obviously way above everyone else. We invest in people, both on and off the field and we couldn’t be more blessed with the team that we have in the office and on the field. Obviously, they showed that with the championship last year. We’re struggling a little bit this year, but that’s to be expected. The team is kind of gelling now and we’ll see what happens the second half of the season, but we’re just blessed with all the members of our team. They’re passionate, they care about Sacramento as much as I do, and it’s a mission. It’s not just, hey, we’re operating a soccer team…it’s using the beautiful game to make Sacramento a better place.

Talk more about the process to become an MLS club. The consensus from MLS, the Mayor and the club is that it’s not a matter of if Sacramento gets in, but when, but if Sacramento has truly “checked all the boxes,” why the delay? Is it simply the process or politics, or something else? What timeline are you now operating on?

Listen, back when we announced what we were doing, [MLS] said great, you have to prove yourself first. After our first four matches at Hughes Stadium, they invited us back in June of last year, so we really only started our initial conversation with MLS in June of last year. And they told us at that time that you’re behind Minneapolis and Miami, and that you’ve got get a stadium an ownership group. You’re doing a great job improving the market, but you need to continue to do that, and if you do, you could be a dark horse and be selected ahead of those. At the end of the day, they had strategic reasons why they had to choose those markets, but we always knew that they were ahead of us. [MLS] have also only announced 24 franchises, so now they’ve told us they are going to expand again further. They don’t know what they’re going to do, but they’re talking through that. We know that they’re getting together in the next couple of weeks to talk through expansion and they will announce expansion this year. We’re all trying to understand, does that mean 26, 28 30 teams? No one seems to know, but what they have told us is that we’re at the top of the list. There are some other markets they like…St. Louis, San Antonio, Indianapolis, San Diego, so we have some competition, but at the end of the day, capital is a coward, and they’re going to choose a market they know they can be successful in.

So the news last week that MLS visited St. Louis, as example, is not impacting how the Republic is moving forward?

We don’t think so. They have stadium issues they’re trying to solve for their NFL team. They’ve told us they’re way behind us. [MLS] has told us we’ve done everything we’ve needed to do. We just need to keep on doing what we’re doing.

Talk about the Sacramento Republic FC Academy, what the academy represents for the team and its potential impact on soccer in the region.

We’re blessed with a huge population that plays the sport at a very high-level. Tommy Thompson and Adam Jahn are examples. In this sport, you have a great opportunity to protect and grow local talent, so we wanted to get into this now, because we really believe that there are some players. Even this year, in the academy program, there are players that could be on our first team in the real near future, so we’re trying to grow talent. It’s part of the process of operating like an MLS franchise, so we’re doing it. Ideally, this is something we would have started a few years later. We weren’t required to do it this early, but we’re just trying to act behind our words. We’re saying that we’re acting like an MLS franchise, so we’re showing that’s the case.

How do you evaluate the club progress this year? Obviously, there are a lot of familiar faces and you have strong leadership from Preki.

We’re a much better team than last year. The first half of the team were all brought back. The second half of the team are all new, but the talent level is much higher, and there are players that we know we can, if need be, replace or even earn a spot from the guys ahead of them. They’re just starting to gel and starting to trust each other. That’s Preki’s model, he pushes them hard and treats the best player equal to the worst player. We’ve been told by the players that they really enjoy being here and we can see that they’re getting better.

Last season, the Republic had an affiliation with the Timbers and the Quakes. This year, because the Timbers formed Timbers 2, there is just the affiliation with the Quakes, but they haven’t loaned any players out like they did last year. Loaned players weren’t just pivotal to the Republic’s success, but also beneficial to the players that were loaned and the Quakes. Has the Republic received any indication on why this is?

San Jose has had a real challenge this year…they’re riddled with injuries and only have 20 guys right now that can be on their roster, so that means you could have two potentially come here, but you’re not going to run the risk sending someone here with injury issues. We talk every week and continue to dialogue about what could be, but we’ll do something here soon. They’re getting healthier now and are playing better, so I think we’ll be able to impact them. Adam Jahn is a much better player this year than he was last year. Tommy Thompson is arguably even better. The system and the model works…everyone just needs game time, needs to be coached well and when we get to MLS, we’ll operate a USL team in that same vain to grow and get our talent ready for the next level.

For our readers that don’t live in Sacramento and/or haven’t attended a Republic match, can you talk about the atmosphere of a Republic match?

Well, first let’s talk about Sacramento. It’s amazing that when people move to Sacramento, they rarely leave. Sacramento has an unbelievable quality of life. We can do so much in the outdoors, and all we’re doing is adding to that. Really this is just showing what type of sports support that we have in the region. The Kings are top in attendance, the Rivercats lead in the league in attendance in their league, and we’re just the new product. What you will get here though is a very intimate setting. The bleachers are right on the field, [and while] it’s not a brand new looking stadium, it looks much-better than most of the college facilities. You’ll see the Tower Bridge Battalion, [and their] 5,000 supporters getting rowdy and it affects the other team.

Can you speak to how soccer has united this community?

Absolutely. We obviously thought, and all the data showed this could happen, but you never know until you execute. The bright spot…sort of the unexpected, is just how much of the fabric we’ve become in the community in a short amount of time. But I believe that’s because we’re mission focused, and people want to participate in the mission. Yes, we want to have high-quality soccer, we want to have a high-quality match, but it’s all about making Sacramento a better place to live, work and play, and that’s helped us [attract] the fringe fan and say, hey, I want to participate in that. Fans are part of our mission, and that’s really, really cool.

Sports-Glutton.com would like to give a special thank you to Sacramento Republic President Warren Smith for his time and welcoming us into his busy world. You can follow Warren Smith on Twitter at @RepublicFCPrez.

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One Response to “Interview with Sacramento Republic FC President Warren Smith”

  1. Brian says:

    “We in Sacramento deserve more and we’re a population base of almost three million people and are the most undeserved sports market in the country.” Wow, talk about an overstatement. Sacramento is lucky if it can count 2 million people as part of the metro area (and even this is being very generous by including places as far away as Lake Tahoe). The fact is, Sacramento is just a medium sized California city, and no one in Stockton, Modesto, Vacaville, or any of the other outlaying cities you must be including in that 3 million estimate has any allegiance or interest in your aspirations of grandeur. Sacramento is lucky that it kept the NBA: it has one of the lowest attendances in the league. MLS would be very foolish to put a team there anytime soon.

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