Becoming integrated within a community is important not only for the monetary growth and public visibility of an organization, but for long term success as well. People get interested when the excitement of the game melds with the idea that a team is a part of the community, a part of what makes one proud to be from the same locale.
This concept is even more important when the organization is without the backing and instant allure of a major entity such as the NFL or MLS. Sacramento area residents exude both the confidence of large city denizens, as well as the care and concern typically seen from members of a smaller community. This point is important when considering how receptive the area was while being courted by Sacramento Republic FC, an organization that plays its games far from the national spotlight.
"The Republic play with the same passion, enthusiasm, and pride that embodies Sacramento and its citizens. I knew after attending my first match that the club would fit in just fine."
- Tom Goode (Downtown Sacramento)
The USL officially announced in December of 2012 that Sacramento was awarded an expansion franchise. As one might expect from a soccer hotbed such as Sacramento, the announcement immediately generated a lot of excitement.
The team ownership sagely decided to have the team name and crest be decided by fan vote, and on July 8th, 2013, at the first ever "Sacramento Soccer Day," the results of that vote were announced. Republic FC was immediately identifiable and certainly memorable. The strong name and impressive logo definitely made a strong first impression and helped the club start on its current path of capitalizing on the area's soccer-fertile, sports-crazy fandom.
Following the team's prudent decision of engaging potential fans by crowd-sourcing the team specifics was the choice to brand themselves via a sponsorship deal with of one of Sacramento-area's largest and most well known employers: UC Davis Children's Hospital. This choice of sponsor shines as one of the best examples that the club's ownership group clearly understands that in order to be successful, a team must align itself with the community it is attempting to draw support from. Of course, it did not hurt that the sponsor-adorned kit, especially the "Old Glory Red" home kit, was aesthetically pleasing and elicited pride in those who donned it.
The march towards integration continued as the club held its opening home games in Hughes Stadium at Sacramento City College. All the initial hype and buzz surrounding the new club was came to a head when it drew 20,000+ spectators for not only the inaugural home match, but for three of the four matches subsequently held there. These attendance figures were almost twice that of the old USL Regular Season record for single game attendance. It appeared that Sac Republic games were the new "hip" event to attend in the city.
Fantastic attendance was not the only byproduct of the franchise's successful launch, as a new figure, one which served to further intertwine the club and the city, had emerged. The Tower Bridge Battalion, a collective of superfans both seasoned and novice alike, was starting to grow both in number and in vocal voracity. By the time the Republic moved to their current home at Bonney Field in Cal Expo, the Tower Bridge Battalion had become a sight to see in itself, with loud chants and wild motions acting almost as human fireworks throughout each match.
The support for the club in their inaugural year was immense. The considerable buzz had become a roar by the time Republic reached the USL playoffs and had become deafening by the time Rodrigo Lopez engineered the Miracle at Bonney to send the team to the USL finals. In an area not accustomed to winning the ultimate prize in the realm of sports, the 2-0 defeat of Harrisburg in the championship match was both foreign and amazing. Pride in the club could be seen all over the area, let alone on social media. After winning the championship on the first try, things could not seemingly get any better from both a fan perspective and from the viewpoint of the Republic's ownership, which was seeking to ensure the team would remain a part of Sacramento's fabric indefinitely.
However, things did in fact get better, as the club publicly gained some powerful allies in January of 2015 in the Sacramento Kings and the York family, owners of the San Fransisco 49ers. Both the Kings and the York family joined with Republic to try and bring a Major League Soccer expansion franchise to Sacramento. Shortly thereafter, news came out that a privately-funded (read voter proof) stadium was to be built in the barren and unused section of the railyards in Downtown Sacramento. This was yet another brilliant move by Republic ownership, as it kept the team in the thoughts of Sacramento residents and added more fuel to the #BuiltForMLS fire.
To keep the warm feelings surrounding the club glowing, the Republic have also made smaller but still important community impacts consistently through the years. Soccer camps for youth players, coaching clinics, an appearance in a production the Sacramento Ballet Company's "Nutty Nutcracker" and most recently the partnership with Street Soccer USA to form a full local chapter in Sacramento, are just a few of the positive marks the club has left on the city.
"Growing up in Sacramento I was taught to have passion for my city and embrace the craziness of it. Our passion for sports and civic programs is second to none. Sacramento Republic is no different, and they embrace our craziness. From standing and singing chants with us in post game celebration, starting focus groups for fan input to providing clinics for the next generation of indomitables. They are truly #SacramentoProud and are helping make us into the next great city we want to be."
- Jillian Adge (Sacramento, CA)
All signs points to the club continuing to elevate its status as a member of the Sacramento community. Even without a USL championship this past season, fan support for the team has not only maintained its substantial levels, but appears to still be increasing. This bodes well for a club that has designs on joining the "big-time" of Major League Soccer. Something tells me that as the team moves closer to achieving that goal, the Republic's ownership will not forget to maintain the most important relationship of all: the one between the club and the community that has grown to love it.