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Soccer blog: USL-Pro team passes a mini test on appeasing hardcore fans

Kirk Klug, Jason Wharton and Kahllil Hedrick.

A lot of things need to be in place and go right for Sacramento new USL-PRo soccer franchise to succeed in its mission of becoming a full-fledged Major League Soccer club. On Tuesday night, as the United States Men’s National Team secured a win over Honduras in a key World Cup qualifier, one of those crucial elements was on display at De’Veers Irish Pub in Midtown – a base of "hardcore" passionate supporters, and management willing to bend a little to meet their demands.

Sac Pro Soccer, which is what the club is calling itself until its name is officially unveiled next month, hosted a watch party at the bar and raffled off tickets to "Sacramento Soccer Day" – a doubleheader of exhibition matches, including one featuring Norwich City of the English Premier League. (Tickets for Sacramento Soccer Day are available on Ticketmaster, use the code FUTUREFANS for discounts). The Sacramento team will begin its season in the USL-Pro League (which functions as the lower division of MLS) in the Spring of 2014.

The back room was full, and the slightly bro-heavy crowd was loud and boisterous – meaning the atmosphere was ideal for a soccer match. A camera crew was there filming a commercial for the new team, and their lense spent a considerable amount of time focused a group of former Sac State players who were leading the chants like they were in the stadium – Kirk Klug, of Folsom, Jason Wharton, a downtown native who wore a jersey with an American flag draped over his shoulders, and Kahllil Hedrick, also of downtown.

Hey they are, in full voice:

The fans I talked to weren’t there just to watch a game – they were there to show support for the the club. They see bringing an MLS team to Sacramento as a mission that they are playing an active part in.

David Shakhunov, 23, of Greenhaven, arrived an hour early.

"It’s an important period for all the fans to show support and if they show support it’s just a matter of years before we get an MLS team," he said. "I’m happy that we got a team in Sacramento, but I’d be happier if we get an MLS team. No offense to USL, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Juninho (Pernambucano), David Beckham and others come here."

But having supporters that consider themselves active participants in the club can come with its complications. They will expect the club to listen and respond to what they have to say. So far, Sac Pro Soccer seems to get this, and has taken a deliberate grassroots approach – to the extent that the team name was selected as part of a now concluded fan naming contest (The club will announce the name and colors at Sac Pro Soccer Day).

The watch party itself was an example of grassroots marketing, but there will likely be times when its not so easy to appease empowered fans. Club officials got a small glimpse of that Tuesday night during the raffle. The plan had been to collect everyone’s info and hold the raffle online, but after the game, beer-cheery chants of "Olee Olee Olee, USA!, USA!, USA!" morphed into "Where’s the ra-ffle? Where’s the ra-ffle?" Club officials obliged and held it on the spot. To keep their hardcore supporters happy, they’ll have to show the same flexibility when it really counts.


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Editor’s note: We’ll be blogging about Sac Pro Soccer on a semi-daily basis until the season starts and beyond. Follow our coverage here

Editor’s note: The “News Digest” goes out every Tuesday morning and highlights our best stories, photos and videos from the week prior. Sign me up.

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