Can Sacramento be the next Orlando City Soccer Club?

This Saturday, Sept. 7, Orlando City will play for its second USL-Pro title in three years. Shortly thereafter, Orange County and the city of Orlando are expected to approve $20 million in funding for a soccer-specific stadium — the final hurdle in bringing MLS back to Florida.

It’s easy for soccer supporters in Sacramento to feel a little envy with regard to Orlando, which in three years has executed the blueprint Sacramento aims to follow when Republic FC begins play next year.

But while Sacramento waits for big-time investors and a successful and well-supported inaugural season from Republic FC to boost its MLS dreams, there are an encouraging number of parallels between Orlando and Sacramento.

Both are warm-weather cities that sit in the middle of their respective states. They are about 90 minutes to the east of a bay area and usually are overshadowed by their more glamorous, celebrity-driven neighbors to the south.

The Orlando metro area boasts 2.1 million people, compared to 2.5 for Sacramento. Orlando is the No. 19 largest TV market in the U.S. (1.45 million households), while Sacramento comes in at No. 20 (1.39 million).

Both cities have one top-tier professional team — an NBA franchise that came to town in the ’80s. Demographically speaking, both cities’ Hispanic populations account for about one quarter of the people (25 percent in Orlando and 26 percent in Sacramento), though the majority of Orlando’s Hispanic population is of Puerto Rican descent.

In addition, both cities feature relatively young populations. The average age in both cities is 33, which bodes well for a sport that generally appeals to a younger demographic than other American sports.

Finally, the difference in average household incomes between Orlando ($42,863) and Sacramento ($46,467) is less than four thousand dollars.
Of course, important differences persist. Orlando is the most-visited city in the United States, thanks to Disney World. While tourists likely aren’t flocking to Orlando City games, their dollars create a robust private sector – which means more dollars for investment and advertising.

Sacramento’s largest employer — the State of California — won’t be pumping dollars into Republic FC.

And speaking of investment, Orlando City also has the backing of Flavio Augusto da Silva. The Brazilian millionaire and majority owner reportedly has pledged to cover Orlando City’s MLS expansion fee and a portion of the stadium costs.

In addition, da Silva is friends with Brazilian star Kaká, fueling rumors Kaká might join the Lions when they reach MLS. Republic FC, meanwhile, continues its search for a similar benefactor.

Still, as Sacramento fans wait and speculate how soccer will fare here, our similarities to a success story like Orlando create cause for optimism.

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September 7, 2013 | 11:51 PM

Unless someone steps forward like happened with the Kings, the pending success of soccer in Orlando wont be repeated here in Sacramento. The reality is that the city of Sacramento wont have any resources to spare to assist Republic FC like they did for the new ownership of the Kings. Even if someone with the big bucks came forward, the history of expansion of pro league soccer in the US is not a major success story.

September 9, 2013 | 5:07 PM

Unfortunately, I tend to agree with this. The city won’t be ponying up any more money and this city just doesn’t have a ton of big money investors. That said, the team management/ownership is very accomplished and talented, and there is a lot of money floating around within a 100 mile radius of town, even if it’s not in Sac proper, so they might pull it off. And I do have faith that the minor league team will be very successful and popular, regardless of its status as MLS hopeful. As a final quick point, MLS-or-not, I’m happy to have a minor league team here next year. Win or lose, MLS or not, count me as a member of the Battalion. Glory, glory, Sacramento!

September 9, 2013 | 4:09 PM

While I would like MLS to come to Sac, I don’t think having a top tier team is really what supporting your town is about.
Having watched the EPL turn from a league of basically all English players in standing room only stadiums (pause for a moment to remember Hillsboro & Heysel disasters) to cherry picked players from around the world playing for top dollar paid for by increasingly absentee owners, and this circus of certain managers flitting between them in different countries, supporting Manchester x’, or Chelsea is almost watered down to nothing, it’s just a brand now, a sticker on shirts for sale.
I don’t know where Republic FC are going to get players from.. it would be nice to think some will be local.. perhaps not, and then it’s a similar game.. but I think I’d rather support a team that’s mid tier and has heart (not guaranteed of course) than a revolving door of mercenaries.
One other thing, I wish soccer here would follow the promotion/demotion model like in the rest of the world. The fact that the River Cats in baseball can never be promoted is a sad thing – there’s a cement ceiling on how far you can progress.
Rant over.. come on Republic FC!

September 10, 2013 | 9:47 AM

I completely agree with the desire for a promotion/demotion model in the MLS. As the number of MLS teams increases, and as the number of USL-Pro teams grows (or so it seems), we have to be getting close to that goal. This whole East/West and playoff format is no good in the world of soccer. Soccer is one of those sports where buying players does not guarantee a win so much as it does with other American sports. Look at Wigan (avg. payroll: $1.8mil) beating Manchester City (avg. payroll: $5.8mil) in the FA Cup Final last season. Wigan got demoted to the next tier down and Manchester City finished a comfortable 2nd in the league.

The biggest hurdle I can see would be a team like the BYU men’s soccer team. Did you know their school sanctioned soccer team actually plays in the USL-Pro league?

Can you imagine this system in baseball? Could you imagine the River Cats gaining promotion this year, and the start of next season going up against the Yankees? You know Raley Field would sell out, but our chances of winning that game are non-existent. Would people attend that matchup at Yankee Stadium? In short, MLS would be the only feasible American league that could support a promotion/demotion model, given a few more years to grow.

September 9, 2013 | 10:08 PM

Sacramento barely kept the Kings you wont be able to support a MLS team.

September 10, 2013 | 8:56 AM

I’m assuming you were being ironic, as someone from Seattle, which, y’know, doesn’t have a basketball team at all. That’s not a failing as a city or anything, but it woud be bizarre if “barely” keeping our basketball team was a strike against Sac, while actually losing their basketball team apparently didn’t have any implications for Seattle.

September 10, 2013 | 10:23 AM

Seattle seems to be doing pretty good for not being able to keep their NBA franchise…

September 10, 2013 | 1:04 AM

Sacramento can support MLS. But will they be able to land investors to privately finance a stadium? That is what will ultimately come down to.

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