Republic FC’s 1-0 upset of English Premier League Sunderland AFC on Tuesday night at Bonney Field was a historic breakthrough for the second-year franchise and garnered international attention.
It was Sacramento’s first friendly win, and it came against the Black Cats, who play in arguably the best soccer league in the world.
“Obviously, we really enjoyed the experience and the result, though it was a warmup game for them,” said Republic FC president Warren Smith. “What we get most out of it is a huge confidence boost for our team.”
But the match, won on Cameron Iwasa’s 58th-minute goal, was played in a stadium that was only half full (5,700), a shocker for a team that has sold out almost all of its matches at the 11,442-seat Cal Expo facility.
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It was the third friendly so far at Bonney Field, none of which drew a capacity crowd. There still are tickets for Friday’s friendly between Sunderland and Liga MX side CF Pachuca at Bonney Field.
5,700 Republic FC’s attendance against Sunderland AFC at 11,442-seat Bonney Field
Republic FC’s match against EPL Newcastle United FC on Saturday will have an announced full house. With the Republic playing in or promoting five international friendlies this summer, it has been more aggressivethan any club in the United States.
Sacramento’s match against Newcastle and its 4-1 loss to Liga MX side Atlas FC on July 8, which drew an announced crowd of 10,419, are part of Republic FC’s season-ticket package, but the others (including a poorly attended June 27 matchup of Liga MX sides Toluca FC and Pumas UMAS) are not, a big reason for the smaller turnouts.
Sacramento isn’t the only club struggling to draw crowds for its friendlies.
Manchester United was scheduled to play the San Jose Earthquakes in the International Champions Cup friendly series at Cal’s 63,000-seat Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. But Tuesday’s match has been moved to San Jose’s 18,000-seat Avaya Stadium.
Match organizers said a change of venue was necessary for Manchester United’s “travel and logistical requirements” but as of Thursday, there were still a few tickets left.
Yet some friendlies have drawn standing-room-only crowds.
Liga MX Chivas Guadalajara, which has a strong following in California, produced an announced sellout of 15,288 against Club Leon on July 7 at Raley Field. A match involving Chivas and its bitter Guadalajara rival, Atlas AC, drew a record of 16,821 at Fresno’s Chukchansi Park, another baseball stadium.
Fred Godinez’s company, Latin Entertainment Inc., promoted those matches. He said Republic FC isn’t marketing to Hispanics properly.
“Republic needs to open their eyes,” Godinez said. “They have a huge success with their own team and marketing to the non-Spanish-speaking public. But there are Hispanics in Yuba City, Modesto, Manteca, Stockton and Elk Grove that don’t know anything about (Republic FC).”
Smith doesn’t necessarily disagree, though he said Republic FC’s Hispanic ticket base is higher than the local Hispanic population. The team also posted a preview of the Sunderland-Pachuca match in Spanish on its website.
“We are maturing as a company, and we’re learning,” Smith said.
Godinez said it harms Republic FC’s brand when its matches involving Liga MX sides draw so poorly.
“They’ve got a (match against) the New England Patriots of Mexican football in Pachuca, and nobody knows about it,” Godinez said. “They’ve got a player in goalkeeper Oscar Perez, who is the Tom Brady of Mexican football, and nobody knows about it.”
Smith said Sunderland’s two matches, which were arranged by an outside promoter, were late editions to the schedule.
That gave Republic FC four matches to play and one to promote in 11 days, including a USL match last Saturday against the Los Angeles Galaxy II. Smith said it’s a huge manpower challenge for his staff, which is also contending with the State Fair at Cal Expo.
“Sunderland had talked to us early, then appeared to be headed to Africa,” Smith said. “They came back to us after we added Newcastle, but they also needed a second match (Sunderland-Pachuca). We asked the staff, and they were 50-50 about doing those matches. We’re growing a brand, so it’s not all about making money. Sometimes you take risks.”
4 Number of matches in 11 days for Republic FC, plus one to promote
Smith said the club will re-evaluate its aggressiveness in scheduling international friendlies, though he agreed the market may be oversaturated with so many foreign teams now coming to the United States during the summer.
“There may be too many of them,” Smith said.