Millennials kick up soccer's popularity


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    Members of the Sacramento Republic FC’s booster club – the Tower Bridge Brigade – stand, sing, and chant all game long.

    - Joe Rubin

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    Sacramento Republic plays in the USL, a league a notch below Major League Soccer. But the team has sold out several games in its 20,000-seat stadium.

    - Joe Rubin

A member of the Tower Bridge Brigade shows her team spirit for Sacramento Republic FC, before the start of a match against Arizona United SC.

The team is called Sacramento Republic FC -- The FC stands for football club (even Sacramento’s booster club also has a European flavor).

But they -- the mostly young people in their twenties in the stands -- call themselves the Tower Bridge Brigade. They stand, sing, and chant all game long.

“I grew up watching soccer,” says fan Ana Garza. “I grew up listening to soccer, I grew up with a soccer ball in my crib.  The whole thing is just exciting.”

Sacramento Republic plays in the USL. The league is a notch below Major League Soccer, where U.S. superstar Clint Dempsey plays for the Seattle Sounders. But don’t tell Sacramento Republic fans they’re second-tier. The team has sold out several games in a 20,000-seat stadium.

So why are these mostly young fans so revved up?

“If you just look at the numbers the average person, the average person when they graduate high school, at least in the Sacramento has played seven years of soccer,” says team owner Warren Smith.

Smith says he has actually been surprised by the extent of the crowds. But he knew all those young soccer players and their parents could support a team.

“They’re familiar with it. They understand it. They have played it. And so if they play it, that is one of the first indicators that they will buy a ticket," says Smith.

Sports economist Patrick Rishe says the reason professional soccer is growing is because it’s connecting with millennials.  

“I think it’s just a natural progression of people being interested in soccer,” says Rishe. “It’s been a popular youth sport for a long time. And now NBC has this deal with the English Premier League, so now we can see regularly the top quality soccer league in the world.”

Some say Republic FC’s early success at the gate and on the field could bump the team up a notch to Major League Soccer. But on a recent night, they were losing 1-0 to Arizona United SC.  

Brian Trainer, one of the leaders of the Tower Bridge Brigade says it time to get louder: “We’re going to keep singing, and it might happen right here, I’m hoping for it. Here we go, here we go…”

And just then, Republic FC booted through the game-tying goal. The assist, more or less, came from its fans in the stadium.

About the author

Joe Rubin is a Sacramento-based reporter and producer whose work has appeared on PBS Frontline, ABC's Nightline, Al Jazeera and many public radio programs.

A member of the Tower Bridge Brigade shows her team spirit for Sacramento Republic FC, before the start of a match against Arizona United SC.

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