The thought behind writing a story about a slip in attendance at Sacramento Republic FC matches hit me late last season. As Republic FC were making another September playoff push, I began to take notice that Papa Murphy’s Park wasn’t as full as it was in past seasons. Still great crowds — just not packed as I had become accustomed to. I sort of chalked it up to the team’s struggle for consistency and what had at that point been a long season.
If you’ve been out to Papa Murphy’s Park consistently this season, you may have noticed more empty seats than in years past — specifically in the corners on the north end and east side of the stadium. But why? Is it fallout from not joining MLS as an expansion city, too many games, cost of tickets, or have the Republic lost a little of its appeal?
What we do know is that it’s not because of a bad product on the field or a poor fan experience that the Republic offer. The Quails are off to one of their best starts in history, they play an exciting brand of soccer under first year manager Simon Elliott, and have overall provided a great fan experience on and off the pitch.
It’s certainly not because of the supporters group, Tower Bridge Battalion, who come and support the club every night with great fervor, or the loyal season ticket holders that come out to support the club. These are the folks that regularly battle the elements — bugs from the river, chilly nights and oppressively hot weather in the summer.
Certainly for the die hard fans, they’ve continued to come out to support the club. But for the fringe fan that maybe was drawn in with the excitement from those first few years and was banking on this club moving up to MLS, maybe it’s not enough anymore...or at least not enough to attend as frequently.
We all know Republic FC play a lot of matches, but what impact does that frquency have on attendance? Well, when you factor in the amount of matches that USL clubs play, especially when you add in Open Cup and other friendlies, it’s quite daunting.
Look at the stretch for the Republic from May 29 to June 20. By the time the Republic play their Open Cup match against LAFC, they will have played eight times in three weeks. That’s a lot soccer, and if you throw in a couple Wednesday matches at home, which are always difficult to get people out to, that has to affect attendance on some level.
On the subject of ticket prices, I have spoken to several fans and season ticket holders who have noted the price increase over the last few years. The cost might have been palatable with the hope of MLS coming to Sacramento, but now with MLS to Sacramento an uncertainty, are fans still willing to pay big league prices for second-divison soccer?
Take for example a lower level seat in section 105. Last year, the seat was $36.85 per ticket, but this year, the same seat is $43.42 — an 18 percent increase. Want a field level seat in Field 16? You’ll need to fork out $96 plus fees. A Republic match with the family is still very much affordable (tickets are as low as $13 per game), and the experience is worth every penny, but I wonder if cost too may be part of the reason for some.
In fairness to the Republic, a season ticket in section 208 in 2017 was $30.35, but in 2018, the cost dropped to $27.50 per ticket — a roughly 10 percent decrease.
From my perspective though, the overarching reason for the slip in attendance is that the allure of the Republic has worn off a bit. And that was going to naturally happen right?
They still draw great crowds to their matches, but they are no longer the new “thing“ in town that everyone wants to go check out and experience, as was the case just a few years ago.
The Seattle Sounders match from last Wednesday illustrates this point. Papa Murphy’s Park was mostly full, but not packed like it was last season when Republic FC faced off against an MLS side in the Open Cup, in what was a raucous environment.
What do you think are reasons? Perhaps a combination of everything outlined here? Or have you not noticed a drop in attendance? Sound off in the comments section below!