Sacramento is viable Major League Soccer market, team-commissioned report says

A report commissioned by Sacramento Republic FC says Sacramento would make a viable market for Major League Soccer.
A report commissioned by Sacramento Republic FC says Sacramento would make a viable market for Major League Soccer. bnguyen@sacbee.com

A report commissioned by Sacramento Republic FC says Sacramento would be a viable market in Major League Soccer, but the community has to overcome a perception that it’s lacking in major corporate sponsors and deep-pocketed premium ticket buyers.

In a report released Wednesday, Texas consultant Conventions, Sports & Leisure International said Sacramento compares favorably with other successful small MLS markets, including Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; Kansas City, Kan.; and Orlando, Fla.

The report is the latest development in Republic FC’s “Operation Turnkey” program to convince MLS that the minor-league team, which has become a hugely successful business in just two seasons, should gain admission to the majors.

While several other cities such as St. Louis and Charlotte, N.C., are vying for teams, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said earlier this year he believes Sacramento will become part of the league at some point. However, he said the timing is uncertain. Kevin Nagle, managing partner of Republic FC, said he thinks MLS might provide some update on its expansion process by year’s end, “but whether that happens or not is out of our hands.”

Published reports suggest the league is focusing for now on nailing down stadium deals for other cities that have been awarded expansion teams, including Miami and St. Paul, Minn., but could also choose to have a team playing in Sacramento even before those other cities are ready to go. Nagle said “we’re ready to execute” if and when MLS awards Sacramento a team.

Bill Rhoda, principal at Conventions Sports, said in a presentation to business leaders and Republic FC investors that Sacramento has only one real shortcoming in the expansion derby: the perception that the city is lacking in big-money ticket buyers and corporate sponsors.

That can be overcome if Republic FC can line up big sponsorship deals ahead of time, particularly a naming-rights sponsor for the team’s proposed MLS stadium at the downtown railyard.

“It helps offset that concern,” Rhoda said in an interview at the Elks Tower downtown, where the report was released. “It helps if you can say, ‘Look, we have naming rights; we have a jersey (sponsorship) deal; we have all the major corporations lined up in support of this.’ 

Nagle said he doesn’t believe corporate sponsorships will be a handicap to Sacramento’s bid. “I don’t feel at all challenged” by that issue, he told the audience, adding that the Sacramento Kings have had no trouble finding sponsorships. Nagle is a minority owner of the NBA team.

The consultant’s report said Republic FC already has built strong ties with corporations. The team earned $1.6 million in corporate revenue this year, best in the minor league United Soccer League, according to the report.

Rhoda said Sacramento has plenty of favorable attributes, including a substantial population of millennials, the type of audience coveted by MLS. Another plus is the fact that the market has only one major league team, the Kings. He said Sacramento would be MLS’ 14th largest market out of 24, including Miami and St. Paul.

Republic FC has been hustling in recent weeks to finalize as much of its expansion bid as possible. Minority owner Larry Kelley’s firm completed its long-awaited purchase of the downtown railyard, which would be home to a privately financed MLS stadium if the league allows Sacramento in.

Although the team previously has said the stadium would cost at least $125 million, Nagle said the team expects to release a more precise estimate later this month.

Republic FC has raised Sacramento’s profile among MLS executives by playing to consistent sellout crowds the past two seasons at Bonney Field, its makeshift stadium at Cal Expo.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler