Sacramento shoots for soccer after success at keeping NBA Kings

Thu Sep 11, 2014 9:06am EDT
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By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - After securing its perch as a pro-basketball city amid much controversy last year, Sacramento is now aiming to add Major League Soccer, a move that could help revitalize the California capital and mark it as a regional center for sports.

The minor league Sacramento Republic FC soccer club, brought to town this spring as part of the effort to persuade Major League Soccer (MLS) that the city could support a team, has been selling out tickets since its first match attracted 20,000 fans. Next week, executives from the league will tour the downtown site where backers hope to build a stadium big enough to hold them all.

"It's hard not to be impressed," said MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche. "They're setting records there."

Sacramento is making its play for soccer just a year after Mayor Kevin Johnson, himself a former NBA star, led a successful effort to keep the former owners of the Kings basketball team from selling that franchise to a group that wanted to move them to Seattle.

Johnson sees the soccer bid as an element of the revitalization of downtown that he hopes will start with a glitzy new $477 million arena for the Kings on a site now occupied by a dilapidated shopping mall. Sacramento was hard-hit by the economic recession and is still struggling to recover.

"It’s a perfect fit and natural next step in our vision of transforming downtown into a vibrant hub of commerce, culture and entertainment," said Johnson, who hopes to follow up with a performing arts center, science museum and community theater, along with economic development. "It's one piece of a broader puzzle."

The former Phoenix Suns point guard's success at mounting a team to save the Kings, including an ownership group led by tech entrepreneur Vivek Ranadive, made waves in the sports world, leading some analysts to view Sacramento as a possible hub under his leadership.

"Sacramento from a sports standpoint is a market people have been paying attention to," said David Carter, a sports analyst with the University of Southern California. "Going after a soccer team makes sense."   Continued...

A player runs on Bonney Field, the home of Sacramento Republic FC soccer club, in Sacramento, California August 27, 2014. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith