Pro soccer team coming to Sacramento – live chat at 11:45 a.m. (ish)

Update: We’re hosting a live chat today at 11:45 a.m. with the owner of Sacramento’s new pro soccer team. Warren Smith is one of the co-founders of the River Cats and is the leading the ownership of Sacramento’s yet-to-be-named USL Pro team, which will start playing its first regular season games in the summer of 2014.

Why is he doing this and why does he think it will work? How will the name the team? What did he learn from the River Cats that could apply here? What was his experience with the Portland Timbers exactly?

Those are a few of my questions. Post your questions in the conversation below and I’ll ask as many as I can.

Video stream will start here shortly after

11:45 a.m.
Update: Warren is  running a little bit behind but should be here in the next 10-15 minutes. 



The article continues below. 

Pro soccer is finally coming to Sacramento.

A press conference announcing a

 lower divison league soccer team in Sacramento earlier today is below. The video picks up at the 5:46 mark:

What we know so far:

-League: The team will play in the United Soccer League’s Pro division, which is nominally the third division in U.S. soccer, with Major League Soccer being the top division. In practice, USL Pro competes with The North American Soccer League to be the top second tier league. Both NASAL and USL Pro compete with Major League Soccer teams in the US Open Cup (meaning we’re likely to see MLS teams in Sacramento if the team does well) and both leagues feed players to the MLS.

Owner: Warren Smith, one of the co-founders of the Sacramento River Cats, will operate the new team and leads the ownership group. He was instrumental in bringing the River Cats to Sacramento and will look to repeat that success with soccer.

Venue: The team will play in Hughes Stadium at Sacramento City College. I asked a local soccer booster, R.J. Cooper, who runs the Sacramento chapter of The American Outlaws, a supporters club for U.S. National soccer team, what he thought of the venue to get a fan’s take. While he said it was important the stadium was centrally located and was a "decent" choice, he was concerned about the possibility of alcohol sales at games, which Hughes does not currently allow. "Supporters’ culture is important to creating an atmosphere that people want to be a part of, and part of sport culture, for better or worse, is alcohol." Update: After the press conference, Warren said they are working to resolve that issue, and that alcholol should be availalbe for purchase.  

Warren had a different take:

“We are very excited at the prospect of playing our USL Pro Soccer matches at Hughes Stadium," he said in a press release. "Los Rios Community College District and the people of Sacramento have done an incredible job in the stadium’s $13 million renovation and in bringing this community jewel back to the stature it once was for the people of Sacramento. We whole heartedly expect to announce a formal ‘use agreement’ in the coming weeks and would like to thank the Los Rios Community College District for their partnership to bring professional soccer to the Sacramento Region.”

The timing: via the press release: "Sacramento’s USL PRO franchise will plan a series of exhibition matches during 2013 involving domestic and international professional soccer teams. In addition, supporter events, soccer clinics and player appearances will be scheduled leading up to the 2014 inaugural season. In early 2013, the franchise will begin the process of building a professional franchise infrastructure, including personnel and naming the team with input and engagement from soccer fans"

– Think Big played a key role in bringing the team to Sacramento and Mayor Kevin Johnson will speak at the press conference.

The Elk Grove factor: Just a few hours before today’s press conference, Gary Davi, the Mayor-elect of Elk Grove sent out a statement saying he had met with Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber over the weekend to discuss the possibility of a team based in the Sacramento residential suburb. The statement also indicated that Elk Grove has signed an exclusivity agreement with a potential ownership team, and that these “discussions include building a soccer specific stadium in Elk Grove and are well on their way to completion."

In an interview today, Davis indicated that he was would try to bring an MLS or a NASL team to the city, a not to subtle dig at Sacrmento’s fledgling USL Pro team “Based on the groundwork that we’ve laid and the conversations that we’ve had, we’re moving down the field pretty quickly with an opportunity to bring a first rate, professional soccer team to our region, and I think it is important that we keep our eye on that prize and be smart about the moves that we make,” he said.

Shane Singh, President, Greenhaven Soccer Club, and board member of the Sacramento Soccer Alliance, is crtical of the Sacramento effort.

“The most prudent approach for the community is to rally behind Elk Grove’s efforts to build a soccer-only stadium and complex,” he said in an email. “Experimenting with low level soccer leagues may hurt our region’s opportunity to land a MLS franchise”

Is the Sacramento region big enough to go from zero pro-soccer teams to two? Could this be the beginning of an epic rivalry? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

- MLS: While Elk Grove has been pushing for an MLS team for the last year, a source involved in bringing the minor league team to Sacramento said the city saw it as the first step toward drawing an MLS team. That source spoke off the record, as they did not want to offend the USL Pro League. 

– Even if the Elk Grove effort falters, a Sacramento MLS team is likely years away. As Dan Courtemanche, MLS’s vice president of communications, told me via email in July, one of the primary factors the league considers when looking at locations for possible expansion is if the city has an existing pro team with a solid fan base, as has been the case with past expansion cities. The league’s recommendation to fans who want an MLS team in their city is to "support your local team – follow the lead of Portland, Seattle and Montreal," he wrote. In the other words, the MLS is looking for proven markets, and the arrival of this team in Sacramento will give the city a chance to prove itself (or not).

– Beyond expansion, the MLS has a long-term goal of establishing a promotion/regulation system, common in the rest of the world, whereby at the end of the season, a bottom group of teams (typically three) of each division goes down to a lower division, while a corresponding number of the teams from the lower division go up. Theoretically, a Sacramento USL Pro team would be part of any such system should it be adopted in the U.S. However, when Commissioner Garber was asked about the possibility of the league adopting a promotion/regulation system during halftime of the MLS Cup Final on Sunday, he made clear that it’s a still in the distant future. "Promotion and regulation, how great would it be?," he said. "Separate us for all the other leagues, but we need to have vibrate second divisions and we need to have a more mature market, until that happens, I don’t see it happening." [Interesting to note that Garber met with Davis on the same day.]

What they said:

Tim Holt, USL President

“USL PRO is thrilled to expand into Sacramento in the 2014 season. “With the Phoenix FC Wolves joining the league in 2013 and the Los Angeles Blues having already developed a successful presence in Southern California, Sacramento represents yet another significant step towards our objective of achieving a regionalized competition approach in the West. This remains a fundamental aspect of a USL PRO business model that is resonating with prospective team owners as the most sustainable for professional soccer at levels which support MLS. Warren Smith is a widely-respected and highly-accomplished figure in the Sacramento sports community and has presented a very impressive vision for professional soccer in Sacramento. By partnering with him we know USL PRO will be successful in Sacramento for many years to come.”

Mayor Kevin Johnson, City of Sacramento

"Today is an exciting day – not only for soccer fans around our region, but also for those who believe fervently in Sacramento’s potential as a vibrant and emerging market,” said Mayor Johnson. “I welcome the USL PRO to town and am thrilled to see more jobs and civic amenities heading our way.”

Warren Smith, Sacramento Professional Soccer, LLC Founder

"Sacramento is one of the strongest soccer regions in the country. We already have numerous professional soccer players that are from Sacramento, or make their home here. It is time for the people of Sacramento to have the opportunity to watch them play on the national stage and to show the rest of the world that the Sacramento area is a great soccer region. I am grateful to Mayor Kevin Johnson, Think Big Sacramento, USL, the soccer community and the many regional leaders that have scored this goal for our city."

Kunal Merchant, Think BIG Sacramento Executive Director

"This is great news for our community. A USL PRO team will provide more jobs, more family-friendly activities and more visibility for Sacramento on a national scale. Congratulations to Warren and his team for once again proving that this is a terrific sports market.”

Steve Hammond, Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau President & CEO

“Sacramento is a community that’s demonstrated an unwavering commitment to amateur and professional sports time and time again,” said Steve Hammond. We are excited at the opportunity that professional soccer presents to this region and look forward to helping to make it a successful and long-term endeavor for this community.”

Kunal Merchant, Executive Director of Think Big:

"This is great news for our community. A USL team will provide more jobs and economic development, more visibility for our community, and further proof that Sacramento is a great market to invest in."

R.J. Cooper, president of the Sacramento chapter of The American Outlaws, a U.S. soccer supporter group:

"There is definitely a fan base, and I think that if it’s run well, and if there is a decent venue, then it has a good chance of success."

"I think it’s a big step for Sacramento as long as they have real investors. Getting a real ownership group that is willing to invest will sort of announce Sacramento’s intentions to be taken seriously in the soccer community and perhaps be part of a promotion/regulation system down the line."


Conversation Express your views, debate, and be heard with those in your area closest to the issue. RSS Feed

December 3, 2012 | 11:40 AM

Thanks for the great coverage on this.

I think alcohol sales for soccer would an overall positive (despite obvious problems it can cause), but Harder Stadium is such an obvious choice that resting your criticism on that alone seems a little trite. It also seems a little unrealistic that we should have been putting all of our efforts at finding an MLS team. I agree that that would be a great goal (pardon the pun), but I would still grade it as fairly unlikely at this point, given that larger markets have had to prove their meddle as fans and soccer-supporting communities before landing an MLS team. Not to mention of course, that there is no stadium, and public funding will be in short supply. (Of course, much cheaper than a basketball stadium.) Instead we have an incredibly successful minor league sports team owner whose current team is much-loved and a huge positive for the city, bringing another minor league team to town with little to no taxpayer funding (and probably a net positive for taxpayers, even excluding boosted local revenues, parking fees, etc, because Los Rios’s stadium just got a new tenant.)

December 3, 2012 | 12:06 PM

Important update: Warren says they are working on solving that problem. Should be beer available on opening day.

Article Author
December 3, 2012 | 4:23 PM

Agreed. In fact, if memory serves, going rate for an MLS franchise is approximately $100 million AND a stadium, so that’s out. Besides, as you wisely pointed out, if the USL side is well supported and successful over the years, that will build the case for a first division club to be established.

December 3, 2012 | 12:01 PM

I’ll be there opening day!

I’d like to see MLS, but I’m more excited about the venue choice. I think taking alcohol out of the equation could be tough, but I also remember that the River Cats grew a very strong base with teens and the lack of alcohol might actually encourage more teen and family participation.

December 3, 2012 | 12:39 PM


December 3, 2012 | 12:42 PM

It will be right off of rail, so I’ll be heading to a few games. Provided they handle advertising right, I don’t see why this shouldn’t succeed- soccer is very popular in Sacramento.

December 3, 2012 | 1:01 PM

Very exciting stuff! I believe we have a strong soccer fan base here in Sacramento, yet our live viewing options have been limited. Anyone who has seen a match a 7am on a weekend at Streets of London, or any of the 2010 World Cup matches broadcast across the city, would know the turnout to watch a soccer match.

I have a theory that the popularity of soccer will continue to grow in the US due to several factors. Of course the talent pool of the players will continue to improve. However, one of the main reasons a good amount of my friends, along with myself, are more frequently choosing to watch a soccer match over another sport is due to the commerciality of the other sports. In soccer, you have two 45 minute halves, of course. But you can count on each half starting at a specific time, and a 45 minute half actually lasting 45 REAL TIME minutes (plus any minimal stoppage time). In American football, the final five minutes of a game can last 30-45 real time minutes. The amount of time spent watching commercials versus actual playing time is rather ridiculous, and has become overwhelming to the point of being too frustrating to watch an entire game through. I won’t even get into reviews, official timeouts, etc. You know what you are getting, timing-wise, in soccer: 90 minutes of straight action, with no timeouts of pauses in play. The same argument can be made against basketball.

December 3, 2012 | 4:28 PM

All good arguments there, and of course, they make the basic case that the people the team needs to be marketed towards are exactly those folks in the pubs early morning. They will be the evangelists that get their friends and families out to the matches. Can’t emphasize too strongly that the MLS 1.0 approach of marketing to the suburban family demographic, attempting to make it a sporting ChuckECheese, doesn’t work. Take a look around the league and see which teams are drawing the big crowds and which aren’t to see the proper target audience.

December 3, 2012 | 1:03 PM

This is a step in the right direction, but I would much rather see Sacramento land a major-league soccer team in the MLS. Perhaps Think Big should rename themselves Think Mid-Major or Think Minor League.

December 3, 2012 | 1:20 PM

Any info on the team name, kit colors/design, or if they will be starting in the next coming season?

December 3, 2012 | 1:31 PM

2014 season.I believe the seasons start in April.

December 3, 2012 | 2:49 PM

They will be called the Sacramento Drive By’s – you know, ‘cus of all the great shooting going on around here.

December 5, 2012 | 7:54 AM

This is Sacramento, not Stockton.

December 3, 2012 | 3:17 PM

Great news for Hughes Stadium, a gorgeous old arena that’s hosted world-class track events, minor-league baseball and boxing matches. Light rail is nearby and there’s easy access from two freeways.

Sacramento had pro soccer in the ’70s — the Sacramento Spirits of the American Soccer League.

December 3, 2012 | 3:24 PM

The Sacramento Spikes. Hughes stadium should be an awesome location.

December 3, 2012 | 3:57 PM

Or continuing in the naming convention of Nature Thing + Animal thing …

- The Sacramento Tree Pumas
- The Sacramento Delta Ducks.

December 3, 2012 | 4:15 PM

Great news! Just be sure to do it right, Sacramento. Your primary target audience is NOT the family market. It’s adults, 18-36. Play in a stadium near pubs, serve local microbrew at the matches, market to people playing in the amateur leagues, and show your supporters some love. They will swear sometimes, and light off smoke bombs, but they will be there in the stands when the team has 5-10-8 record, and will get their friends to come to games. Always make it about the fans.

December 3, 2012 | 4:34 PM

Sounds like you’re describing the Portland Timbers. Pretty mediocre team but some darn fine fans. I’ll be first in line for a scarf.
(Not many pubs around, but Track 7′s across the street.)

December 3, 2012 | 4:21 PM

As for a name, how about simply Sacramento FC? A nickname will get figured out over time. Or River City?

December 3, 2012 | 10:17 PM

RCFC works for me. Good for chanting.

December 4, 2012 | 10:18 AM

*clap clap*
*clap clap*


December 3, 2012 | 5:03 PM

Awesome! I am stoked. I’ve been hoping for this kind of announcement for a couple of years now. And I think this will firmly put us on the path to an MLS team.

Like others, I’m wondering about the team name. Will it be a nicknamed team? Or follow European standards and be something like Real Sacramento, Sacramento FC, or Sporting Sacramento?

Anyone hear anything yet?

December 3, 2012 | 6:21 PM

They are going to invite fans into the naming process. We have a live chat the owner tomorrow at noon. I’ll ask.

Article Author
December 3, 2012 | 5:04 PM

By the way, here’s a look at the venue. Nice!

December 3, 2012 | 9:34 PM

Wow, two stories involving “Think Big” in one day–this one, and the one where Kevin Johnson was fined $37,500 for not reporting millions in donations he solicited for his pet nonprofits, including “Think Big.”

December 3, 2012 | 10:22 PM

I am sorry…but who would want to drive to the hinterlands in Elk Grove. With .no mass transit of any kind it would be the only option and since it is at the edge of the metro area, almost everyone would need to clog the freeways.

December 4, 2012 | 9:07 AM

Elk Grove would have a slight advantage in trying to expand their fanbase to the Stockton area, but overall, I agree with you. It’s on the very edge of the metro, there’s no appropriate stadium, no mass transit, and little to no real chance for the stadium to be located somewhere entertaining (pubs and restaurants within walking distance for before and after). I would definitely support an MLS team there, but, ironically, probably less than I’d support a lower division team in Sac.

December 4, 2012 | 9:02 AM

Name the team The Solons. Pretty please.

December 4, 2012 | 10:04 AM

Let’s see here: Large crowds caught up in the frenzy and excitement of their team, with plenty of flashing billboards encouraging them to buy alcohol, and all this right next to a school, and one of the largest parks in Sacramento that hosts childrens activities by the score. What could possibly go wrong there…..

December 4, 2012 | 10:06 AM

Can we ask if them if they will be running all of their jobs out of their current River Cats office or if they will be hiring specifically for this team?

December 4, 2012 | 10:08 AM

Or if they are looking for a street team leader?

December 4, 2012 | 12:06 PM

if you’re looking to be a street team leader in the mean time, the Surge might be interested

December 4, 2012 | 10:11 AM

Most soccer team all over the world don’t have a mascot type names, including a lot in MLS (Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake, DC United, FC Dallas, etc).

Would really like to see FC Sacramento or similar for our team.

December 4, 2012 | 10:12 AM

Has anyone been to a large event at Hughes? The traffic on hwy 99 is at a standstill. There is basically only one way in and out of that area. And the parking is not even large enough to host large crowds. Especially if students are there. I’m afraid it won’t be long before we hear that Hughes Stadium is too old and not capable of holding this kind of event. Now, it’s been said Elk Grove has the financial backing to build an soccer only venue. THAT would be cool!

December 4, 2012 | 12:07 PM

they have built a new parking structure but not sure how well it would accomodate large soccer crowds

December 5, 2012 | 8:54 PM

And what are they going to do about lodging accommodations for out of town teams? No hotels anywhere near the stadium.

December 4, 2012 | 11:17 AM

Is the owner the least bit concerned about the playing surface (ie artificial turf)? The game changes significantly when played on turf vs grass. Also, what kind of out-reach will be made to the Latin community. Soccer will fail in Sacramento without the support of the Latin demographic.

December 4, 2012 | 11:52 AM

Mr. Smith – How are you financing the $1M franchise fee for USL-Pro? How come you left the good folks from Elk Grove out of the USL-Pro discussions prior to your announcement on Monday?

December 4, 2012 | 11:57 AM

When will they announce the team name and how much community input will they seek from the community on the issue? Also, what does the owner think about supporter culture and how does the franchise plan to approach and accommodate potential supporter groups?

December 4, 2012 | 12:12 PM

I’d like to advertise with the team. Is it too early to set up a sponsorship agreement?

December 4, 2012 | 12:16 PM

Are there plans to build a soccer specific stadium? How much would it cost to build a stadium?

December 4, 2012 | 12:23 PM

how do you plan to execute high attendence numbers?

December 4, 2012 | 12:24 PM

Got it thanks!

December 4, 2012 | 12:28 PM

FIFA frowns on leagues larger then 20. Beyond that we go to a promotion/relegation system

December 4, 2012 | 12:29 PM

28 is not a high number… European pro soccer leagues have tiers of 24+ teams

December 4, 2012 | 12:33 PM

You scared him off

December 4, 2012 | 3:03 PM

It seems to me this soccer team and the “hopeful” Elk Grove MLS do not need to against each other. If the USLPro team is successful, it will only prove to the MLS money people that Sacramento is a valid market for an expansion team. They are different levels and may even have separate markets within the community. I look forward to seeing this be a reality. Looking at the other teams and the stadiums they are currently using, Hughes Stadium will be one of the largest capacity wise and one not based at a high school. I would love to see a full size pitch built here with stadium seating but I see Hughes as the first step in making it a reality. As for the artificial surface, if built to the current FIFA standards I see it lasting many years and we don’t need to worry about it. Artificial surface fields, built correctly, offer an excellent playing surface and are much more durable. It would allow more people to use the pitch, more frequently, with a higher number of teams sharing the costs of the field.

December 4, 2012 | 3:16 PM

Does anyone how they go about recruiting for a team like this?

December 4, 2012 | 4:37 PM

By the way, there is an NPSL (one level beneath USL Pro) team in Sacramento already.

December 5, 2012 | 12:41 AM

Who remembers the Sacramento Knights? Would be cool to see a reincarnation of the team.

December 10, 2012 | 3:34 PM

I played against the Sacramento Gold NPSL team for Real San Jose, I played Centre Defense (a position I was utilised in for cover, I am a forward usually) over at River City High School in West Sac… I am hoping if anyone knows anything in future of who to contact to be given a try out to help me along the way. My name is Lewis Saxelby

January 29, 2013 | 11:25 AM

i love the team

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