Hundreds of fans, reporters and investors filed into The Bank downtown to witness the announcement of Major League Soccer’s 29th team; the Sacramento Republic. After over five years of pushing to be the next city to host an MLS team, Sacramento finally won the bid, a big step for the city.
While the announcement came days before the official ceremony, that did not stop massive crowds of fans from attending the event, sporting their new Sac Republic scarves and gear.
The MLS is considered the fastest growing professional sports league in North America, and many believe that as the NFL continues its downward trend, soccer may take American football’s place as the most popular sport in the US.
With this growth came rapid expansion for the league. It now has five new franchises in the pipeline for 2020 and beyond. Just two months ago, fans of Sacramento soccer were devastated when the league announced it would be awarding the 28th team to St. Louis.
However, after an uphill battle, a Sacramento ownership group led by Ron Burkle convinced the MLS to expand to the central valley.
“There’s no doubt that this is a soccer city,” said Commissioner of the MLS Don Garber, who attended the recent announcement. “It’s the perfect city for our growing league, a league that hosts the youngest and most diverse fanbase in all of professional sports.”
This was the end of a long journey that all started when Sac Republic joined the United Soccer League in 2014, where they shattered league attendance records.
They immediately submitted multiple bids to join the MLS, but were met with resistance. As Garber explained the growth of the league requires three main things: dedicated owners, a world class soccer stadium and a vibrant soccer community with strong city and corporate partnerships.
Mayor Derrell Steinberg also attended the event and expressed his pride in the city for coming together and achieving these three aspects in order to win the bid.
“I’m just so proud of my community,” said Steinberg. “This achievement really reflects what I’ve always known and what all of us have known about Sacramento for as long as we have lived here; it has incredible grit, it has a passion and it is always fighting for a better future.”
While the ceremony and block party that followed it were a chance to celebrate the city’s growth, a lot of work lies ahead to ensure the success of Sac Republic.
“We have to take the moment of this victory and we have to then translate it into other victories for our city and our region: more clean industries, more jobs, more development in the railyard, we’re breaking through on the waterfront,” said Mayor Steinberg. “Today we revel, tomorrow we get back to work.”
The franchise is expected to be a job-creator, and city leaders hope it will cause areas of downtown and the waterfront to boom. The new stadium will occupy a space called the railyards, just North of the Golden One Center.
Not only is the stadium planned to be state-of-the-art for the players, but it will bring some of the best soccer players in the nation to Sacramento for the young audience to admire. The design phase has been completed, and with a few city approvals, construction could start in May or June of this year.
Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the area, especially at the high school level. In 2014, there were 162,297 registered youth soccer players in Northern California. The region has also produced numerous players that have competed in the MLS, including Sasha Victorine, an alumni of Rio, who played for the Men’s National Team.
Investor and owner of the new Sac Republic, Kevin Nagle expressed the importance of local youth in the sport when a city hosts an MLS franchise.
“We knew that already we had a built in opportunity,” said Nagle. “It’s the reason why we built an academy for our team because we wanted to be able to interact and interface with some of those [younger players]… we are going to have that more now.”
While high school players may love the game, Garber explained they don’t necessarily lead the fanbase, which relies on other factors.
“That youth movement is happening everywhere across the country both for boys and girls, but it isn’t what’s going to drive a fanbase,” said Garber. “A fanbase is driven by all of those people growing up and then becoming consumers and influencers, and being able to support a team, and buy tickets, and be a part of the shared experience.”
The stadium is planned to open in January of 2022 with the team kicking off later that year.