Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

Cyclists speed through downtown Sacramento during the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, which returns to the city in May after a two-year absence.

Editorial: Sacramento can reclaim place as sports mecca

Published: Friday, Mar. 14, 2014 - 12:00 am

Though it may seem so with all the attention on the planned downtown arena, the Sacramento Kings are definitely not the only game in town.

In fact, Sacramento is in a crucial time to restore its standing as a great sports city:

• Wednesday, officials said that if at least 22,500 tickets are sold for the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in June at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium, the event would return in 2017. The city hosted it in 2000 and 2004 (years when it also served as the Olympic trials) but was passed over for a decade as Eugene, Ore., won bids with Nike’s help.

• A new pro soccer team, Sacramento Republic FC, starts play this month and will soon have a new 8,000-seat stadium at Cal Expo. The team’s owners want to reach the top league, Major League Soccer, by 2016. MLS Commissioner Don Garber made clear last week that would happen only if there’s enough fan support.

• After skipping Sacramento for two years, the Amgen Tour of California returns in May. The road race, which attracts the world’s best cyclists, will feature a 123-mile opening stage that begins and ends at the state Capitol.

• Del Paso Country Club will host the U.S. Senior Open in 2015.

•  Several NCAA championships are scheduled here over the next four years. In 2015, Sleep Train Arena will host a women’s basketball regional. In 2015 and 2016, the women’s rowing championships will be held at Sacramento State’s aquatic center. In 2016, the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex will be the site of a cross-country regional. And Sacramento State will host a track-and-field regional in 2018.

This is a bounty of big-time events, bringing a substantial payoff in visitor dollars and prestige. While the events will draw out-of-town spectators, the support of local residents and businesses is essential. If these events are successful, they will lead to more down the road. And if the new arena is built, it could be a prime candidate to host NCAA men’s basketball regionals, and possibly volleyball or wrestling championships, as well as an NBA All-Star Game.

Sacramento has a long and proud history of hosting high-profile sports events, but hit a dry spell during the recession and a full-on drought in 2012. It also didn’t help that the Sacramento Sports Commission, in charge of recruiting events, ran into serious financial woes. It was folded into the Convention & Visitors Bureau.

With the bureau’s resources, the sports commission is going after not only events that draw national notice, but also lower-profile, middle- and high-school championships that attract families with money to spend, Mike Sophia, its new director, told The Bee’s editorial board.

The city is rebuilding its reputation in the sports world. With smart management and enthusiastic local support, Sacramento can reclaim its rightful place as a sports mecca.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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