Rangers US Tour – Exclusive interview with Sacramento’s technical director

Sacramento Republic supporters, courtesy of Randall Benton

The debut season for Sacramento Republic  has caught the attention of the American soccer world.  In their inaugural season in the USL Professional Division, basically the third tier of American soccer, Sacramento has begun the development of a brand that could fast track the team to Major League Soccer.  Their professionalism has been immediate & the community has responded.  The team’s home games routinely attract 17,000-20,000 passionate fans.

Sport’s Illustrated’s Brian Straus recently attended a match in Sacramento & told Rangers Report, “It’s not run like a minor league team by any stretch, and a lot of Republic staff have experience in top-tier pro sports, either with MLS or the NBA –  & it shows.  Everything from the badge/uniform to the way they treat fans and their attention to detail feels major league.”

Rangers visit to Sacramento this summer is a major benchmark for the franchise.  Sacramento’s Technical Director Graham Smith talked to Rangers Report about the club’s success, their upcoming friendly with Rangers & the long term aspirations of the club.  Smith is a former member of Chelsea’s Board of Directors & formed First Wave Sports Marketing – one of the largest sports agencies in the United States.  

RR:  Can you explain the level of success the club has had, both on the pitch & off of it?

GS:  Off the field at the moment we have been more successful because we have started at a zero base as a football club.  The administrative staff & the ownership group have done a tremendous job of getting the product accepted in the community & getting it out to the public.  We have a brand new stadium that we’ll be going into in a couple weeks time, we’ve been able to have games of 20,000 fans & hopefully our next game will also get up there in attendance (19,526 showed up to that next match).  We’ve seen a  tremendous amount of season tickets sold to support the  launch of the brand (5,000 season tickets sold).  It  has been absolutely successful to say the least.

Bonney Field – Sacramento Republic’s new stadium

All of our support, media, & PR efforts have been bearing fruit.  The Sacramento Republic brand is out there in the football world, both nationally & internationally.   At the moment we seem to putting together a reasonable streak with wins in six straight games, including the US Open Cup matches.  (The club ended up with a last minute draw vs. Arizona United this weekend).

The methods being deployed by Preki, our head coach, are starting to pay dividends.  The players are getting the gist of it all on the field & as a consequence we have put together some attractive performances particularly against the teams that are up there in the standings, like the Los Angeles Galaxy reserve team.  We were very competitive & very entertaining.

Graham Smith & Preki – Sacramento’s manager, courtesy of SRFC

RR:  To what extent were you surprised by the interest in the club?  For example, the new stadium holds 8,000 fans & you are attracting nearly 20,000 to each match.

GS:    To be perfectly honest it wasn’t a surpirse in terms of the response from the public in Sacramento & I’ll tell you why.

I did a game with my company  about five years ago.  It was a Thursday evening & it was my first time ever in Sacramento.  We put on the game between Monterrey & Preston North End.  The game attracted just under 10,000 people on a Thursday night.   I remember sitting there at Raley Field & I said to a couple of colleagues were with me, “This place can support a soccer team – there’s no doubt about it.”   It was a great night & a really good experience.

Several years later it seemed logical that we would have success in Sacramento as you look at the very fabric of the sporting community.  The community has a history of supporting its different franchises.

The Tower Bridge Battalion

There’s an appetite for sport & I think  football is entrenched in the community now.  When you look at the Tower Bridge Battalion supporters group, & look at the number of people & the diversity in the crowd – young & old, &  the different nationalities in the stands – it’s been terrific.

Let me tell you,  it’s very heartening when you stand up at one of those games with 20,000 people.

Look in Europe at the number of leagues that would love to average 20,000 fans at their matches.   Look at Major League Soccer, how many of those MLS teams would like to average 20,000?   It’s a genuine number.   Our numbers are not fudged, they are exactly how many people came through the turnstiles.

It’s great, really encouraging & the people of Sacramento deserve it.

Lee Wallace, courtesy of SNS

RR:  Can you explain how the match with Rangers came together?

GS:  Over the years I’ve been involved with bringing English Premier League teams & international teams to the United States for their training camps & I was contacted by an organization that were representing Rangers.

Glasgow Rangers wanted to come to the States.

It’s a massive brand –  it really is a famous club & we thought Sacramento would be logical.  We wanted to give the people of Sacramento  the opportunity to see a club like Rangers.  A storied club – it’s a first for us.

One thing led to another & we talked to the company concerned & the rest is history really.  Hopefully, it’s going to be great night.

It’ll be interesting following on the heels of the Orlando City game that Thursday night – so we’ll have a little bit of a football feast.

The great thing is, of course, its at Bonney Field & we can only get 8,000 people in.  The number of Rangers supporters clubs in the United States is quite significant (there are at least 20+ club in America)  & it will be interesting to see how many Rangers fans get the tickets to come.

Orlando City announces expansion to MLS, courtesy of OSSC

RR:  Do you think Sacramento is setting itself up to follow the model of Orlando City to seek out a place in MLS?

GS:  We have to go to Major League Soccer –  it’s quite simple.   I would hope that Sacramento becomes an indelible mark on the minds of the people who run MLS.

I think that we have already proven that we have the fan base which is in the top tier of MLS soccer teams anyways.  If we execute off the field initially, through the fan base & if we develop a 20,000-22,000 seat stadium then I don’t think we can be ignored.  I would hope not because that is our ultimate goal.

MLS has improved dramatically over the years & as a league its becoming more & more popular.  The quality of football is improving all the time & in the eyes of the international playing fraternity- the players themselves –  it’s an attractive league now, an attractive proposition for them.

As you can see  now, with New York City FC announcing the signing of David Villa, which is an excellent signing & there’s talk that Frank Lampard may come over.  After the World Cup its going to be very interesting.

So – yes, we want to be up there because we are capable of competing.  We have the quality in staff, within the organization in those key positions that will take us to that level & I think thats the most important thing we are geering up for it.  None of us are going to accept anything other than that quite frankly.

courtesy of SRFC

Thanks to Eddie Ralph (Sacramento’s Media Relations Coordinator) & Erika Bjork (Sacramento’s VP of Marketing & Communication) for setting up the interview with Mr. Smith. 

Sacramento Republic will host Rangers on July 19th at Bonney Field.



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