Popularity Contest

City has 3 teams, but which is our favorite?

By R.E. Graswich

May 2019

As the Kings rolled to their annual demise without the playoffs in sight, my friend Peter Monson, who owns the Fox & Goose pub on R Street, mentioned how things were getting better.

The Downtown arena had delivered on its promise to enliven a neighborhood devoid of charm and relevance. The Kings had shown improvement and potential for next season. But there was something different about the NBA crowds at Golden 1 Center.

“They aren’t the same as they used to be,” he told a few of us at the pub. “They’re just not.”

Peter wasn’t being critical. Rather, he was displaying the nostalgia expressed by many veteran Kings fans. They get sentimental when reminiscing about old Arco Arena in North Natomas or the tilt-up concrete barn that housed the Kings for three seasons when they arrived from Kansas City in 1985. He was talking as a true Sacramento sports fan, someone who follows the Kings without regard to their hopelessness.

The conversation got me thinking about which one of our sports teams generates the most love among city fans—not suburbanites, not bandwagon climbers, but people whose lives revolve around Downtown, Midtown, East Sacramento, North Sac, South Sac, Land Park, Oak Park, Curtis Park, Meadowview or Pocket.

I wondered if I could figure out whether Sacramento’s three professional sports teams—Kings, River Cats and Republic FC—were balanced in their support among city residents, or if they were more dependent on newer, suburban audiences.

This exercise was more complicated than might be expected. I asked each team for a ballpark percentage of city residents within their season-ticket customer base, by ZIP code. Teams get nervous when media ask about season-ticket data. So I kept the request generalized, strictly round numbers.

The River Cats were fast to respond. The baseball team’s media rep, Conner Penfold, said he checked with several colleagues in the front office and came up with an impressive number: “Roughly 60 percent come from the city of Sacramento.”

 

The Republic was a little more suspicious. I have a friend with an impressive job in the soccer team’s management, so I checked with him. He asked what my angle was, and when I told him, he seemed satisfied. But that was the last I heard from my old friend.

The Kings were not much better. They didn’t respond to my emails. When I finally reached the team’s public relations chief on the phone, she promised to ask around for the information. I’m still waiting to hear back.

Seven years ago, when the Maloof family was selling the Kings to an investor group led by Vivek Ranadive, I saw data indicating about 25 percent of Kings season ticketholders were Sacramento city residents. It was an admirable number, given that the city’s population of around 500,000 is a fraction of the regional market’s 2.4 million people.

Season-ticket buyers, along with corporate sponsors and media deals, are part of the economic nucleus that allows our teams to operate. Obviously, the Kings, River Cats and Republic run on vastly different scales. But they compete for the same fans and sponsors. And in Sacramento, those numbers are limited.

So which pro team is most popular among city residents? The answer is impossible to prove. But to find a consistent collection of true Sacramento city sports fans, I would say a trip across the river for a baseball game at Raley Field is an excellent idea.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at reg@graswich.com.

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