There is no doubt that Los Angeles and San Francisco garner most of the attention when referencing the state of California. The glamour of Hollywood and the fog of the bay area have become icons of the Golden State. Through all the hoopla around these two mega cities, people often forget about Sacramento. Located an hour east of San Francisco, Sacramento is the capital of California and home to nearly 2.5 million people. Despite the large metropolitan population, Sacramento is home to just one professional sports team, the NBA’s Kings. If Sacramento officials and fans get their way, that will change, and soon.
On December 3, 2012, the USL Pro Soccer League announced that Sacramento would be joining the league as an expansion team with co-founder and president Warren Smith at the helm. Trying to emphasize to the people of Sacramento that this was their team, the ownership group put the club name up for a vote. The fans decided on Sacramento Republic FC. The city was so thrilled that they had been granted a USL Pro team, they officially announced July 18 as Sacramento Soccer Day.
Led by Coach Preki Radosavljevic, the club made its home debut on April 26, 2014. It was quickly evident that Sacramento would be a successful landing for a soccer team when the announcement was made that 20,321 fans were in attendance for the first ever game at their temporary home, Hughes Stadium. Through the first nine games of their history, Sacramento Republic FC shattered the USL Pro regular season attendance record with 118,107 visitors to the stadium. While they finished second in the regular season rankings, they were able to put together a dazzling playoff run on their way to lifting the USL Pro Championship Trophy.
The city of Sacramento is fierce, hardworking and proud. It has been overlooked by many and even insulted by some. In the early 2000’s, legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson infamously referred to Sacramento as “cow town”. The people of SacTown just laughed and started banging cowbells at Arco Arena, home of the Kings.
Resilience is another word that accurately describes the capital city. When the Kings were on the verge of being sold and shipped to Seattle, the entire community, led by Mayor Kevin Johnson, convinced the NBA Board of Owners to reject the team’s relocation. Today, construction is moving quickly on a state of the art downtown arena and Kings banners fly throughout the city. For a league like the MLS, which is pushing to become more popular at home and abroad, Sacramento would be a perfect addition.
Sacramento is the 20th largest television market in the United States, but it is the only city in the top 25 with just one professional sports team. Because the town is not jam-packed with sports franchises, there is potential for strong viewership numbers if the Republic were to be promoted.
In an effort to strengthen their position for a campaign run towards the MLS, the Republic have partnered with the Sacramento Kings. The formation of the relationship has given the Republic a more credible stance among MLS delegates seeking out the next big soccer town. Together, the Sacramento teams were able to design a plan for a permanent soccer complex in downtown which would be entirely privately funded as well as serve as a cornerstone for a broader effort to revitalize the area.
But more important than any other reason for MLS in Sacramento is the thirst for the sport in California’s capital. By selling out fourteen consecutive games at Bonney Field, the people have proven that they love their soccer. The season ticket holder list has crossed the 6,000 mark and the team has started a wait list for MLS tickets; because when the league comes calling, they will be ready. The future is bright in Sacramento. There are nearly 130,000 kids participating in soccer programs throughout the region and they are longing for a top-tier club to embrace as their own.
MLS wants to encourage the growth of American soccer. They want to show the world that their fans are as passionate as those anywhere else. There is no better place to do that then Sacramento. It is time to take the next step. It is time to make Sacramento Republic FC the 24th team in Major League Soccer.