Nathan Redmon from Norwich City F.C. carries the ball during his team’s friendly match at Raley Field during Sacramento Soccer Day on July 18, 2013.

Nathan Redmon from Norwich City F.C. carries the ball during his team’s friendly match at Raley Field during Sacramento Soccer Day on July 18, 2013.

Kick Start

Soccer’s entry into Sacramento means big business

Back Commentary Sep 1, 2013 By Warren Smith


Urbs indomita. For those of you that didn’t take Latin in high school, it translates to “the indomitable city.” For more than 160 years, this phrase has been Sacramento’s motto, describing a populace that would not be overcome by flood, fire or disease. The city’s original citizens rose above, literally moving rivers and land. Perhaps in no other time since the state’s entry into the union has Sacramento been poised to rise again.

Home values are inching up, a vibrant downtown and midtown are attracting developers as well as young professionals, and our well-deserved designation as the Farm-to-Fork Capital of America has redefined us as a destination. Nowhere was this indomitable spirit more evident than at Raley Field on July 18 for Sacramento Soccer Day.

It should come as no surprise that the world’s sport has finally been embraced (some may say possessed) by America’s most diverse city. More than 14,000 people — a sellout crowd — attended Sacramento’s inaugural soccer match between the English Premiere League’s Norwich City F.C. and Mexico’s Dorados De Sinaloa. The match provided a glimpse of what is to come when the branding for Sacramento’s very own professional outdoor soccer club, Sacramento Republic FC, is unveiled. Our motto: Urbs indomita.

Sacramento Republic FC will begin playing home games this spring, and there is every indication that this club will be integral in shaping our region’s economy and culture.

The global sports industry generates $620 billion per year. Live sporting events provide jobs, city tax revenue and thousands of downtown visitors who support vendors selling everything from merchandise to television ads. The industry also captures outside dollars through tourism and visitor spending from the teams themselves and from fans who follow their favorite club on the road.

Major League Soccer (MLS) recently announced it will expand from 19 teams to 24 by 2020. Sacramento is a city poised to land one of them. A study by the Orlando City Soccer Club estimates nabbing an MLS team could have a $1.2 billion impact on its region. Orlando is a city similar to Sacramento both in size and designated marketing area, and they have only one other major-league team (Orlando Magic basketball) so it doesn’t take much to imagine that same fiscal impact here.

Since the beginning, it has been our intention for Sacramento Republic FC to become a MLS franchise — and soon. The core group of founders and investors, including myself, realized that the proven pathway to MLS was through the United Soccer Leagues Professional Division, USL Pro, part of the tiered soccer system and second only to MLS in talent and professionalism. Four out of the past five MLS expansion teams originated from USL Pro franchises, which saw substantial increases in attendance once making the jump. The Seattle Sounders saw attendance explode from 3,342 to 30,897 per game, and the Portland Timbers have sold out their 18,827-seat stadium each season since their MLS debut.

The game of soccer also provides unique economic attributes not seen in other major leagues. First, it’s growing. Look no further than the MLS’s ability and need to expand. MLS is the only American major league that has not reached its capacity for franchises. The league is currently operating in 20 of a potential of 42 open markets with income bases large enough to support a club. The investment is also drastically less than other leagues. The average soccer stadium costs $100 million to build and holds anywhere from 18,000 to 25,000 attendees with average ticket costs between $26 and $87 less than the average NFL ticket. Only three MLS franchises are in overextended sports markets, and Sacramento is ranked near the top ten for expansion markets.

Opportunities for success are also evident in attendance and ratings. An ESPN Sports Poll dubbed soccer America’s second-most popular sport for people ages 12 to 24, surpassing the NBA, MLB and college football. As far back as 1994, 30 percent of American households have included someone playing soccer, accounting for 93,000 youth and adults currently playing in organized soccer leagues in the Sacramento region.

Additionally, the 2010 FIFA World Cup set broadcast records, making it the most watched soccer game in U.S. history, with almost 24.5 million viewers — many more than the 18 million that watched Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals, according to The Nielsen Co. Sacramento ranked consistently as one of the top ten markets for the World Cup and as high as six for Latino audiences. Because of the communal nature of the sport, these televised matches bring thousands of people to local bars and restaurants. We witnessed this first hand when we partnered with the local chapter of the American Outlaws, the unofficial U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team supporter club, for a viewing party at Alley Katz that drew more than 175 people with only a couple days notice.

Additionally, soccer is primed to grow because of its culture. Soccer is a true community. Through Crown Downtown and Here We Stay, Sacramento experienced what the passion and collaboration of a team’s fans can achieve. It is the community-driven culture previously only seen abroad that is revolutionizing American sports. These aren’t just die-hard soccer fans. In fact, many have never even played the game but still find themselves drawn into a culture that is nearly impossible to describe. It is best left to experience. The chants. The passion. The community. The indomitable spirit. I’ve seen nothing like it in sports.

Be warned: This culture is contagious. It’s no coincidence that hubs for young professionals, such as Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, are also home to MLS franchises with downtown stadiums. Millennials are a generation (and coveted workforce) especially attracted to a place’s culture and civic amenities when choosing where to live and work. So let’s give them one more reason to choose Sacramento. For this and many more reasons to come, it is my goal that Sacramento Republic FC serves as a catalyst to once again position this indomitable city to rise above.