Are Sacramento Republic FC fans worried about MLS bid? Some surprising answers on 5th season opening
Even though it was St. Patrick's Day, a night usually associated with parties and bar hopping, a sellout but shivering crowd filled Papa Murphy's Field for the 5th season opener for Sacramento Republic FC.
Wearing beanies, scarfs and down jackets, soccer fans huddled close together, jumping around to keep warm while drinking green beer. A frigid breeze off the river added a wind chill factor that made the mid 40-degree temperature feel even colder. The night was still festive, but a big question loomed over the capacity crowd: Were they worried about the club's chances of expanding into Major League Soccer?
I got a wide variety of surprising answers.
"I'm very worried," said Bryson, who said Sac FC lost their chance when billionaire investor Meg Whitman dropped out. " We really need a real big investor right now to come in and take control."
The fans I talked to were well versed in the club's saga of failing to impress MLS officials and especially Commissioner Don Garber after their bid felt short of financial backing for expansion. All believed Cincinnati was the front runner at this point but felt Sacramento deserves it.
I approached three men who were laughing and drinking beers at halftime. Their laughter turned serious and they got quite animated when I asked them if they were worried about the MLS bid. What they said surprised me.
"We don't want it," said Kevin Beard. "I don't want it either," said his friend Neil.
They talked about the high expansion team cost. New teams coming in are expected to pay $150 million up front to join MLS. There's even talk pro soccer may increase that fee to $200 million. For perspective, Toronto joined MLS for $10 million dollar ten years ago.
"If I were ownership, and I'm dropping $200 million just to buy in, where is the return on my investment?" asked Beard. He and his friend believe MLS is gouging small markets around the country instead of helping them get bigger.
If Sacramento loses MLS, will the fans still come? Anyone who's been to a match at Papa Murphy's, especially on hot summer nights that cool off with the Delta Breeze, love the festive atmosphere and big community block party.
Jacob Escobedo was at Saturday's match fully decked out in club gear from hoodie to scarf. He said he helped name the club. He doesn't think the team will dissolve if it doesn't go pro.
"I think Sacramento is a soccer city," said Escobedo. "We support whatever club is here."
MLS has given teams more time to finalize their bids while Sacramento looks for a whale of an investor.