Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber has a message for Sacramento soccer fans: If you want the city to reach the nation’s top professional league, support the new team in town.
In a conference call with reporters and fans Tuesday, Garber said the success of Sacramento Republic FC – which debuts this month in the lower division USL Pro league – will be a barometer of Sacramento’s future MLS goals.
“The thing I would try to instill in the minds of everyone in the community there is, support the Republic,” he said. “Show everybody in the soccer community in this country and certainly in California that the Republic can grow, that it can become very relevant in the marketplace, that the stadium can be bustling with passionate supporters and that the corporate community would support it.”
Sacramento is one of a handful of cities under consideration for MLS expansion as the league plans to add three teams over the next six years. Republic FC has set a goal of earning an MLS promotion by 2016.
Cal Expo approved of a plan last week for an 8,000-seat stadium for Republic FC on the state fairgrounds. The $3 million, privately funded facility will likely be finished in June, meaning Republic FC will play at least its first three home matches at Hughes Stadium.
The team has taken deposits or received full payment on 4,578 season tickets. Erika Bjork, a team spokeswoman, said the franchise expects to exceed 6,000 season tickets by the time the season starts.
Garber took notice of the current season ticket figure, describing it as “just fantastic.”
“I would encourage every fan in that market to support the Republic, get behind it, build that brand and show there’s a real appetite (for MLS) north of San Jose (where the MLS Earthquakes play),” he said.
In an emailed statement, the franchise set an ambitious goal for its home opening match.
“From day one, our goal has been to provide the highest quality of soccer for Sacramento and to execute on a proven business plan that builds a brand, embraces fans and brings value to corporate partners,” team President Warren Smith said. “Commissioner Garber’s comments (Tuesday) prove that the plan is working and reiterates Sacramento as the indomitable city we know and believe it to be. When we host over 20,000 fans at Hughes Stadium on April 26, soccer fans around the world will know it, too.”
Besides backing by local fans and businesses, Garber said the league is interested in seeing a supportive “political infrastructure” that “really believes that gutting up to the next level is going to be important for all involved.” Republic FC has said it wants to eventually move into an 18,000-seat stadium in downtown Sacramento. While the stadium’s cost is unknown, it is likely that the project would require some public contribution.
Sacramento is competing with many other cities for a spot in MLS. Garber said the league is also monitoring progress or is in active discussions with teams in Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C., San Antonio and Austin, Texas; and Minneapolis.
MLS currently has 19 teams, with franchises in New York and Orlando, Fla., scheduled to begin play next year. While the league has stated its goal is to increase from 21 teams to 24 by 2020, Garber left the door open to further expansion.
“Things have evolved to where the level of interest has grown as the league has become more popular,” he said.