Sports & Recreation

Traveling to 2040: Best idea for a new sports complex

Illustration By Leif Jones

Sirens/Knights Stadium

Imagine your faithful time-traveler’s surprise at picking up a copy of the September 22, 2040, edition of SN&R to find an editorial devoted to the issue of building a new sports complex in Sacramento. It’s amazing that professional sports continue to be such an overwhelming subject of interest, but the city by the river has a long history of supporting its teams, particularly when they’re champions. Gone are the golden days of national basketball teams like the Kings and Monarchs, though; today’s Sacramentans are getting behind their local football and soccer teams.

I stopped by a local coffee shop, still the favored location for journalists to gather, and shared a table with a local editor of some renown—the one who authored the editorial, in fact—hoping to gain some insight into why Sacramento would need yet another new sports complex. The downtown arena, which took decades to complete, is still fine for our basketball teams, he said, but football and soccer were made to be played in outdoor stadiums.

“We need to get this thing built,” said the editor, “before another city takes away the best teams Sacto’s ever had.”

Why has professional basketball waned while local soccer and football teams waxed?

“First, there was the great oil crash of 2010,” the editor said. “When transportation and building costs went through the roof, most high-profile sports teams found their season-ticket holders struggling to get by and giving up entertainment first.”

That hit the NBA hard. “When people found themselves choosing between paying their mortgages and buying high-priced tickets, it was a no-brainer,” the editor said. As transportation became increasingly expensive, the national leagues tried to rely on televised games to keep their audiences—and their revenue—coming in. After all, they had to meet million-dollar payrolls and pay to crisscross the country.

But with oil at $400 a barrel by 2025, it was an untenable proposition. The major leagues slumped under their own economic weight, and audiences shifted their focus to regional sports and entertainment.

Enter small local teams and what used to be considered fringe sports. Organizations like the Sacramento Sirens, a women’s professional football team that already had established itself on a shoestring budget with athletes who were willing to play for the love of the game (and an occasional pizza), found themselves with more fans than they could handle. The Sirens started out at the turn of the century, playing other regional teams during the summer months in high-school stadiums, and still managed to build both a championship franchise and a solid local fan base. So did the Sacramento Knights, a professional men’s soccer team that originally was part of the Maloof sports empire; after they left the Maloof organization in 2004, the Knights had a few lean years before taking a national title in 2010. “Neighboring towns and cities were quick to field their own teams,” said the editor, “but Sacramento’s head start left us with a pair of champions.

“Heck,” he added, “the Sirens were national champions as far back as 2002.” In mid-century, the Sirens dominate the Northern California Professional Football League, regularly trouncing teams from Redding to Modesto and thumping their traditional rivals, the Oakland Banshees.

What’s become obvious, according to the editor, is that borrowing university playing fields won’t work much longer. They’re not big enough to hold the fans.

SN&R’s editorial suggested putting a new stadium on Fulton Avenue, in the wide-open spaces once occupied by auto dealerships. “All that land just sitting there for years,” he snorted. “It’s on trolley routes and light-rail, so it could certainly handle the influx of fans.” And, he pointed out, it’s not as though new car dealerships will move in; who owns a personal vehicle these days, anyway?

“It’s about time to stop dithering and build the thing,” he said. “The Sirens and Knights deserve a real stadium, with decent locker facilities, concessions, comfortable seating for the fans and bike lockers so we can park safely.”

The old editor shook his head. “What are we going to do—let Davis steal ’em?”