During a recent fan fest held in Sacramento, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced that the next round of MLS expansion would most likely occur in the year 2020 after Los Angeles FC, Atlanta United, Minnesota United, and ideally Miami Beckham United, have all entered the league. One of the biggest potential candidates would have to be the Sacramento Republic which already draws an average of 10,000 fans per game and possibly has the backing to get a new stadium deal completed in time for 2020. This conversation has happened since before the team started play in 2014. Don Garber has even called Sacramento “MLS ready” multiple times as evidence of all the pieces it already has in place. But will it become a reality?
As the Republic website states, Sacramento is “committed to bringing MLS” to the region. So far they would seem to be on the right track with a solid supporters group called the Tower Bridge Battalion, a soccer specific stadium named Bonney Field, and the backing of the local government. The region would have very little competition from other sports as well, with no football, baseball, or hockey franchises to eat into fan interest. On top of that, Sacramento has consistently high TV ratings for marquee World Cup games compared to other U.S. cities. The team even has a shirt sponsorship deal in place with U.C. Davis Children’s Hospital.
On paper it seems like MLS in Sacramento would be a winning combination. But here are the roadblocks.
- The expansion fee. One could expect the MLS to ask for over $100 million, especially after the record fees paid by NYCFC and Orlando City to join the league. Money talks, and this could be one of the main reasons Sacramento has been bypassed thus far by cities with less concrete franchise plans in place.
- Location. While the lack of competition in the area could be seen as an advantage, there is also a reason why few other major league sports franchises reside in the area. There are bigger media markets out there to take advantage of.
- Commercial commitment and sponsorships. This is more of a league-wide issue than a Sacramento issue. In a recent interview, Garber stated that the “last piece of the puzzle” for the Republic ownership group would be to secure commercial commitment and sponsorship. If a more lucrative shirt sponsorship can be found, and TV partners as well, Sacramento could be in business quicker than 2020.
Overall, Sacramento Republic FC is in great shape to move up to MLS. It has the fans, the ownership group, the stadiums, and the can-do spirit necessary to take the next major step. Sacramento has more pieces in place than Miami at present, and time will tell if the Republic can leapfrog Beckham to earn their fair place in the top tier of American soccer.