They may be a third-tier team playing one of this country’s second-tier sports, but good luck trying to get a ticket to their championship game.
The 8,000 tickets available for the Sacramento Republic FC’s match Saturday against the Harrisburg City Islanders from Pennsylvania were snapped up in minutes, putting the game in competition with the city’s Farm-to-Fork dinner on the Tower Bridge on Sunday for having the hottest ticket in town.
Those who failed to snag a ticket to soccer’s USL Pro championship match, which starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Bonney Field in Cal Expo, can still watch it on local Channel 31.
The least-expensive game ticket on resale site StubHub was selling for $105 Thursday afternoon, a 320 percent markup from its $25 face value. The most expensive ticket was listed at $300. The average price of resale tickets was $166.
The sharp demand for Republic tickets contrasts with the tepid market for Sacramento Kings games in recent years, with unwanted tickets sometimes dumped for as little as $2.
Professional soccer still ranks below football, baseball and basketball in national prominence. But Sacramento fans are showing why it’s considered by many to be an ascending sport. The overwhelming support for the city’s lower-division soccer team has helped lay the groundwork for a potential upgrade to Major League Soccer, the highest league in the U.S. An MLS delegation visited Sacramento last week, wooed by a group of Republic owners and investors who plan to build a new stadium in the dormant downtown railyard.
It’s widely believed that Sacramento is in a close race with Minneapolis for the 24th and final spot in MLS. The league’s owners could make a decision as early as December.
About 7,000 of the 8,000 tickets for Saturday’s game went to the team’s season-ticket holders and the league, said team spokeswoman Erika Bjork. Fans without season-ticket privileges faced a digital scrum to secure a seat in the stadium.
Nicole Comer of Fair Oaks was among those who came away disappointed.
“It’s very sad. My son was very sad. He was like, ‘What? You didn’t get tickets?’ ” said Comer, who grew up playing and watching soccer. Her son, who is 9, plays goalie on his club team. Her parents, who do have season tickets, will be going to the game.
She said she’s not surprised the team is drawing so well: “There is a lot of soccer around here.”
Comer said she and her husband got tied up at work and didn’t log on to the Republic website right away when the tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Wednesday. But state worker Brandon Chapin waited with his credit card.
“I was able to bag two of them when it opened,” said Chapin, who will be taking his girlfriend. He said they’re both new soccer fans.
Student Jessica Trudell turned to Facebook, asking for a miracle.
“Greedy scalpers bought up all the Sac Republic tickets so they can sell them for much more than face value. I can’t afford to pay for an overpriced ticket on my student’s budget. I’m dying to go to the game and I’m hoping there’s a friend out there with an extra ticket or two who is willing to sell to me for face value,” Trudell wrote.
The team’s booster group – the Tower Bridge Battalion – offered to give tickets to fans who would willingly be tattooed with the group’s logo.
The group, which was also willing to pay the price of the tattoo, quickly found more takers than tickets.
Bjork said there was plenty of evidence, dating back to when the team packed Hughes Stadium with 20,000 fans earlier this year to start its inaugural season, that there would be more demand for tickets for the championship game than could fit in the new, smaller stadium. After four matches at Hughes, which doesn’t have the proper dimensions for soccer, the team moved to 8,000-seat Bonney Field at Cal Expo.
“We really do feel like we could have sold 20,000, 25,000, 30,000 tickets,” Bjork said. “Our phones have been ringing off the hook.”
After season-ticket holders were given tickets and tickets for the league were taken out of the mix, there were 1,500 to sell. Season-ticket holders were given access to an allotment of extra tickets Tuesday, leaving about 1,000 to sell to the general public on Wednesday, Bjork said.
The success of the Republic FC in many ways mirrors the early days of the region’s basketball Kings and baseball River Cats. Both teams enjoyed immediate fan support and made postseason appearances in their inaugural seasons.
Jerry Reynolds, a longtime color commentator for the Kings, said he sees similarities between the two franchises.
“There was an immediate love affair with the Kings, and there was an immediate love affair with this team,” Reynolds said.
But while the Kings played their first season in a small facility before moving into a larger one, the Republic experience has been the opposite. He said the team likely benefited from playing games in a smaller stadium much of the season, ensuring packed houses.
West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said there are similarities with the River Cats’ experience but that the Republic’s route was harder. The team had to prove to naysayers that the region would support soccer.
The sport has quickly become a hit with young people, said Emily Cameron, who chairs the Metro Edge young professionals group in the Sacramento Metro Chamber.
“It’s almost like the new watering hole or new town square,” she said. “A couple years ago, the complaint was that there wasn’t enough to do. Now, not only is there a lot to do, but a lot of amazing things to do.”
The success of the Republic and other events – including the city’s sold-out Farm-to-Fork gala dinner Sunday – shows how this community supports things it wraps its arms around, said Mike Testa, a spokesman for the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“When the citizens of Sacramento embrace something, they help it do well,” Testa said. “This city and this region is passionate, especially when it comes to sports.”