Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber announced last week during the MLS All Star Game that the league would be expanding to 24 teams by the year 2020. Who will these additional 4 franchises be? We reached out to a number of people in the know from prospective MLS cities and asked them, why their city? It's a series we're calling MLS2020. You can join in on the conversation on Twitter using #MLS2020. Next up, we talk to Warren Smith, president of Sacramento Republic FC about Sacramento, California.
Total-MLS (TMLS): The league has released a number of criteria that they will base their expansion decision on. Let’s hit on each of the criteria.
Committed and engaged ownership: Are there any groups currently stepping forward to bring MLS to Sacramento and what is their plan for making these intentions known?
Warren Smith (WS): A group led by Warren Smith has launched a USL PRO club, Sacramento Republic FC, and the franchise will play its inaugural season in early 2014. With past USL PRO franchises serving as a stepping stone toward becoming MLS expansion teams, Smith hopes to follow a similar path in Sacramento.
TMLS: A comprehensive stadium plan: Are there any discussions or plans in place for a soccer specific stadium in the Sacramento area?
WS: The club is evaluating on an ongoing basis a number of potential soccer specific stadium sites and plans, each of which is oriented toward establishing a strong presence in the Sacramento urban core. We are excited about these possibilities, and we look forward to sharing more publicly at the appropriate time.
TMLS: Demonstrated fan support for professional soccer in the market: Soccer has always been big in California. What will the fan support be like in Sacramento with 3 California based teams already in MLS?
We have already seen strong support from our fans. Over 14,000 came out in full force last month for Sacramento Soccer Day. Additionally, we have started taking season ticket deposits and requests have been flooding our phone lines and online deposit system. The Sacramento region has a unique identity and always has been its own market – residents want to support, and have a robust history of supporting, organizations, businesses and franchises that are local.
TMLS: Support from sponsors, television partners and other constituents: What support does Sacramento have in place from these parties?
WS: Sacramento Republic FC has established a television media partnership with CBS13. For Sacramento Soccer Day in July, the club successfully arranged and implemented several key sponsorships, including those from Supercuts, UC Davis Children’s Hospital and Togo’s. (Click here for a complete list of sponsors). We anticipate that the number and nature of the club’s sponsors and media partners will expand further as the club approaches commencement of its inaugural season.
Additionally, both the Sacramento and West Sacramento Mayors have announced their full support of the franchise, as have other elected officials and organizations, including the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Sacramento Partnership and Sacramento Sports Commission.
TMLS: Geographic location: With the 3 California teams already in the league, Sacramento would have some great natural rivals. What makes Sacramento a good location for expansion?
WS: As a potential destination for MLS expansion, Sacramento continues to evolve and distinguish itself as the perfect location for professional soccer at the highest level. All indications are that MLS will expand in the West and South. Sacramento is the most prime location on the West Coast and, as you referenced, is ideally situated to foster vibrant rivalries with existing West Coast MLS franchises. Also, with the Sacramento Kings being the only major league professional team in town, the city is one of the most underserved media markets in the country. Additionally, the region already has a massive amount of soccer players, at both the youth and adult levels, as well as a vast multi-cultural demographic. Further, and to emphasize the point about fostering strong rivalries, Sacramento is a rabid sports town known for passionate support of its teams. For example, the Kings have two of the five longest NBA sellout streaks and the Sacramento River Cats has been identified by Forbes as the most valuable Triple-A baseball team in the country.
TMLS: A strategic business plan for the launch and successful operation of the club: What kind of plan do you think Sacramento will put in place to make sure their franchise is successful?
WS: The first step is proving Sacramento as a compelling professional soccer market, by building the Sacramento Republic FC into a successful USL PRO club. A key part of that undertaking is to engage personnel whol are experienced, knowledgeable and committed, not just to the club or sport as a whole, but to the City of Sacramento and its fans. We have been successful thus far in organizing such a front office. For example, we have hired Graham Smith to be the club’s technical director and Preki as its head coach. Both have been involved in soccer at its highest level and bring years of experience to Sacramento Republic FC. In addition, we are keenly aware that a soccer-specific stadium will need to be built – one that is in or near an urban core, much like Downtown Sacramento.
TMLS: Finally, why should Sacramento be chosen for a MLS expansion franchise and what are the chances it does happen?
WS: After talks with MLS representatives, we know Sacramento is on the radar for an expansion team. We know we need to continue to work to build a successful USL PRO franchise and show just how supportive Sacramento-area fans are of Sac Republic FC. We are enthused about meeting that challenge, and we feel that if we do so, then the merits of the Sacramento region as a home for a MLS franchise will become even more evident.
We'd like to thank Warren for his time and if you have any comments or questions you can tweet us or Sacramento Republic FC and use #MLS2020. You can also read more about Sacramento's new USL Pro team at Sacramento Republic FC's site.
(image courtesy of sacrepublicfc.com)