In 2014, I took my sons to the first match at Hughes Stadium with 20,000 elated supporters. I cheered at the Capitol steps after the team won the United Soccer League championship in its inaugural season. I sang and chanted with the Tower Bridge Battalion in the summer heat at Papa Murphy’s Park. I watched the away games on YouTube, and later ESPN+. I stood in the rain at City Hall in December 2017 when it was announced that the MLS bid, which once seemed so promising, was completely unraveling. I set a Google alert for any news about MLS expansion and watched as Minnesota, Nashville, Cincinnati, Miami, Austin, and St. Louis displaced Sacramento Republic FC as the frontrunner.
Despite this, like thousands of other Sacramentans, I trusted the relentless optimism of Kevin Nagle’s leadership and the determination of Mayor Steinberg. Nagle, and his co-founder, Warren Smith, had created more than a soccer team with a logo, they had established a following to the club’s ideology. With “Urbs Indomita” brazened upon the jerseys, and the California bear marching westward as the team’s crest, Sacramento Republic FC tapped into a rugged, authentic, and inclusive ethic that resonates with Northern Californians.
I remained hopeful despite the considerable setbacks.
In January 2019, news broke that billionaire Ron Burkle and his business partner, Matt Alvarez, had joined the ownership group, which marked a milestone for the Indomitable City. However, I remained worried that Sacramento was running out of runway, as MLS announced it was going to limit the number of teams to 30, and it was approaching 28.
In July, I attended the County Bar Association’s “Meet the Mayors” event and questioned Mayor Steinberg about MLS expansion. Checking to confirm there were no members of the media at the County Bar’s meeting, Mayor Steinberg smiled and whispered into the mic that he “guaranteed MLS expansion.” He jokingly referenced how Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl trophy in 1969 and invited us to call him “Broadway Darrell” when MLS expansion occurred.
Following the County Bar’s event, Sacramento Lawyer Magazine asked me to write an article about the potential MLS expansion. I pounced at the opportunity. My assignment—to address the impact of MLS expansion upon the region.
In September, I interviewed Ben Gumpert, Sacramento Republic FC’s President and CEO at midtown offices. Gumpert is perfect for the role. A scruffy millennial with an MBA from Stanford who was previously the Chief Marketing Officer for the Sacramento Kings and worked in New York as the VP of Business Operations for the National Basketball Association. Gumpert shone with excitement about the yet-to-be announced expansion news.
As part of my assignment, I also interviewed Kevin Nagle. Years earlier, in darker times after Sacramento’s bid unraveled, we spoke on a few occasions because my law firm had ties to investors in the English Premier League. Even then, when Sacramento’s bid was in tatters, Nagle remained resolute he would find the right financial backers, and push Sacramento into MLS. He was correct. In September, Nagle was giddy with excitement and gracious for all of those who had contributed to Sacramento’s effort to bring MLS to the capital city. Simply put, Sacramento Republic FC becoming an MLS team would never have happened without Nagle’s tireless efforts.
On October 21, 2019, Mayor “Broadway Darrel” Steinberg delivered on his guarantee. MLS Commissioner Don Garber made it official. After five years of arduous waiting and rejection, Sacramento Republic FC was finally joining MLS!
So, what does it mean really for Sacramento? Even before MLS expansion, Sacramento’s trajectory pointed skyward. After the Golden 1 Center’s development, downtown, midtown, and West Sacramento have experienced the influx of great restaurants, coffee houses, music venues, and brew pubs. Because of escalating prices in the Bay Area and Sacramento’s stable government sector, Sacramento has recently been able to attract millennials, hipsters, entrepreneurial tech jobs, a vibrant arts community, and a diverse community reflective of every color, creed and religion.
So, beyond what we already have, what does MLS expansion really mean for Sacramento? Being currently pointed skyward, MLS expansion is rocket fuel to propel Sacramento upwards for generations to come.
The $252M stadium is privately funded and aside from $30M in tax credits and permit waivers, the city has very little of its own equity at risk. Further, the new 22,000-seat stadium and the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center will become the anchors for the development of the Railyards. “Burkle and his investment group have purchased the land adjacent to the stadium, and are bringing restaurants and a retail district to surround the stadium as a gathering point for Sacramentans,” commented Gumpert.
“The Railyards development will effectively double the size of the downtown, and provide a corridor to the river,” added Nagle. The 242-acre development project will be one of the largest urban development projects in the United States. “Because the stadium development is 90% privately funded, we expect the positive spillover effect to Sacramento’s economy will start in Q1 2020” said Nagle. “MLS expansion will enable Sacramento’s businesses to attract more talent and opportunities, and the benefit extends to all segments of our economy.”
Nagle stated that the tax revenue from the Railyards development, which is built on private investment, will enable the city to better address other pressing issues, such as affordable housing, homelessness and a new courthouse. City Council candidate, Katy Valenzuela, who is looking to win the council seat currently held by Steve Hansen, added, “It could be monumental. It’s a huge opportunity if done intelligently with an eye toward making certain those who work in the Railyards can live nearby.” She echoed Nagle’s comments about providing needed tax revenue for Sacramento’s key issues.
“I helped to keep the Kings in Sacramento,” said Nagle. “A region’s sports teams give it a national and global identity.” MLS expansion will immediately improve Sacramento’s stature and media visibility. Sacramento was a natural fit with the other western cities with MLS teams—Los Angeles, San Jose, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Austin. “We’ll have natural rivalries with both teams in Los Angeles, and with the [San Jose] Quakes,” added Gumpert. “I’m excited by the other West Coast rivalries.”
Sacramento Republic FC, with its headquarters situated in janky midtown, has developed a quirky Northern California identity. For example, the team is known as “the Quails,” which actually started out in 2016 as an April Fool’s joke. In a uniquely Sacramento way, the team and its followers have adopted the state bird as their own.
Gumpert commented that the community’s identity will also be embodied in the stadium. Republic FC’s thoughtfully designed stadium is a tribute to Sacramento’s culture. According to Gumpert “The stadium will be a showcase with a canopy on the top level, and its continuous roof reflect Sacramento’s urban forests.” The effect of having the sides open will operate to cool the stadium in the summer months. “The continuous roof will provide shade in the summer and keep fans dry when it rains,” he continued.
When asked about the other uses for the stadium, Gumpert said, “We have an interest in adding a National Women’s Soccer League team, concerts, World Cup qualifiers, the U.S. National Team (both men and women), rugby matches, lacrosse, football, farmers’ markets, and corporate events.” The U.S. will co-host the FIFA World Cup in 2026, and Sacramento plans to host one of the teams at its basecamp. On the topic of concerts, Gumpert said, “We are constructing a state-of-the-art outdoor concert facility, which will attract top names, much like how the Golden 1 Center has brought in top artists.”
For long-term prosperity, since its inaugural season in 2014, Sacramento Republic FC has been deeply rooted to the community. The team’s motto, “It Takes a Republic,” reflects the careful stewardship in charitable and community involvement. The team has hosted forums for advancing women in business, volunteered at countless local events, and will continue to promote local initiatives.
On October 21, 2019, I took my eighty-something parents, wife, and high-schooler to the MLS Expansion Block Party on Capitol Mall. One of the speakers stated, “This is a great day for Sacramento. This is also a great day for MLS because MLS now has Sacramento Republic FC.”
Sacramento Lawyer Magazine