As I was walking into yesterday’s State of Downtown breakfast, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, which consisted of some interesting chatter the night before that an announcement on the Republic might be forthcoming. What exactly was anyone’s guess.
But I quickly realized (while standing in line to get my name badge) that something was up. Republic peeps were EVERYWHERE. General Manager Todd Dunivant was sitting at my table briefly before he was directed to sit elsewhere, as was Republic play-by-play announcer Rob McAllister. Members of the PR and Marketing team were all around, as well as their film crew.
As we all know by now, Sacramento Mayor Steinberg announced that billionaire Ron Burkle was the Republic’s new lead investor for its Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion bid.
I know some still question whether MLS will actually come to Sacramento, and I get it. The manner in which the league has handled expansion over the last few has not instilled much confidence around here. It’s easy to be cynical. But after yesterday, I am more convinced that the prospect of it actually happening is as real as it’s ever been.
I caught up briefly with President and COO Ben Gumpert yesterday to get his immediate thoughts on the announcement, how difficult the last year has been to find a whale, and the role fans can play moving forward to help get Sacramento over the hump.
Without further delay, below is the transcript from our conversation:
Ben, sum up what this morning means for Sacramento?
It’s hard to sum this up in a few words. It’s just a really incredibly exciting day for the city, for the entire region and for our fanbase. I will hold up our fanbase to anyone in the country in any sport. I think they have certainly been patient throughout this process. They cheered as loud as they ever have through all the twists and turns, and this is a major, major step.
It’s not the final step. We haven’t reached our final goal yet, so we’re not going to be lackadaisical in any respect, but it is a big moment. To think that we can have an investor like Ron Burkle and his great experience, his great philanthropy, his experience in sports, real estate and business, and Matt Alvarez, who will be part of the ownership team with Ron, [who is a] fantastic guy, savvy, [and has a] huge passion for soccer and Sacramento...we couldn’t have dreamt a better scenario then where we sit right now.
How hard has it been over the last 6-12 months for you guys to stay quiet and focused on this work?
Everything is hard. Everything has been hard in Sacramento. You know that. I grew up here, [I] was part of the Kings fight, which I was fortunate to be involved with and have had a window into this and the many twists and turns and rollercoaster ride that it has been, but I love it.
I certainly never took anything personally. I know that Kevin has done so much and put himself out there emotionally, psychologically, and financially to the tune of tens of millions of dollars and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves.
But fans are passionate and they should be. If they weren’t saying anything, I would almost be more disappointed, because that means they may have lost faith, emotion or passion, and that’s something that’s never happened with [our] fanbase. So I would take that 100 out of 100 times.
We are only where we are today because of that journey and we’re better for it. Now we just need to continue to make strides and make sure it’s the happy ending we all want to write for this club and city.
What can the fans do to help see this through the finish line?
They have kept the hope alive for this. I love when I hear people say, “MLS or not, I love the Republic.” That’s incredible. I think what MLS adds is more resources...to build it in the Railyards, and to build the world class stadium that our fans deserve.
They need to stay loud just like they have always been. Stay hopeful. Keep pushing me, keep pushing Kevin, the Mayor. Be loud, be supportive and we will always find the right way and the right path. It will always be an evolving journey even past MLS...once we get there. But it’s an exciting [journey] and one we are thrilled to be on.
Thank you to Ben for spending a few minutes with me yesterday. Stay tuned to Indomitable City Soccer for the latest insights and commentary on Sacramento’s MLS expansion effort.