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Official Review by Ryan Norris, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Sacramento has long been rumored as an expansion possibility for Major League Soccer (MLS). In their brief existence they are making quite the impression both on the field and at the box office.
Sacramento Republic FC was founded in 2012 and began play in the United Soccer League (USL) in 2014, winning the championship that very first year. While Bonney Field was constructed on the other side of the American River at the Cal Expo, the Republic played their first few home games at Hughes Stadium on the campus of Sacramento City College.
Bonney Field is located on the Cal Expo which main function is to host the annual California State Fair. Because of this, there are remnants of fairs past throughout the area. Bonney Field was built in 2014 and after just one successful season it was expanded by nearly 4,000 seats to its current capacity of 11,442.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Sticking with the theme of a state fair, much of the food offerings are in that vein. Hot dogs, nachos and other typical stadium foods are available alongside faire staples such as anything deep-fried and greasy. Most popular on hot Sacramento days are the slushie and ice cream stands, where the lines can snake throughout the concourses. Bonney Field is a Coca-Cola facility.
The most popular macro beers seem to be Tecate and Coors Light and you can find those throughout the stadium. If you're looking for craft or local beers, head behind the west sideline stands for the more popular craft selections plus some local offerings from New Helvetia, Knee Deep and Rubicon breweries.
I'm not the biggest fan of the fried offerings of fair food so what separates Bonney Field's offerings for me is the outsourced food trucks that seem to rotate on throughout the season. These local trucks offer anything from salads to crab sandwiches and from tacos to grilled cheese and tater tots.
Bonney Field is still coming into its own on this front. Ultimately, the stadium maximizes its current capabilities and is impressive in that it was built so quickly and is evolving with the growing needs of the fan base. It is also unique in that it is within Cal Expo, with a working (only during the State Fair) monorail track running throughout the facility and views of the adjacent Raging Waters waterpark.
Bonney Field consists of bleachers on three sides plus an end line VIP section. The bleachers include backless and backed seating depending on section. While the backs and sides of the bleacher base are covered with Republic logos and sponsors, fans must walk under the bleachers to reach their seats. In the supporters section, the metal bleachers are often stomped on which creates a minimal amount of noise on the pitch but is excruciatingly loud when walking underneath.
There are two large screens that display live game action, the score and the running clock. They seem like they are something in between a large television and a traditional video board. They seem somewhat temporary but serve their purpose well.
The immediate neighborhood surrounding Cal Expo is largely residential mixed with strip malls. The area is not terribly walkable because of distance between locales, driving or other forms of transportation is a must.
The Arden Fair Mall is directly adjacent to Cal Expo which includes chain restaurants such as Olive Garden, The Cheesecake Factory and In-N-Out Burger. Local options include Taro's for sushi, Cask & Barrel for southern and Maggiano's for Italian.
For a taste of the local craft beer offerings try Capitol Beer & Taproom where they have draft and bottled offerings from around Northern California and beyond. Twelve Rounds Brewing in East Sacramento is the nearest brewery to Bonney Field. Field House is the nearest sports bar which offers brunch, bar bites and beer.
There are a few hotels walking distance to Cal Expo including a Fairfield Inn and a Courtyard Suites.
If you're willing to explore beyond the immediate neighborhood, check out the Midtown and Downtown Sacramento neighborhoods, five to eight miles away.
Republic fans have shown up in droves since the very first game, forcing a Bonney Field expansion after just one year. Sacramento seems to be an excellent professional soccer market because of its size and demographics plus the fact that there is little competition for the sports dollar outside of the Kings and River Cats. My hope is that the passion for the Republic continues and they eventually make their way to MLS and a natural rivalry is fostered between them and the San Jose Earthquakes.
The Tower Bridge Battalion is the supporters group for Republic FC. They are a rambunctious group that stands and chants throughout the match in sections 1 and 2.
The Republic fan base, while without much history, is very passionate. In the coming years, I can see a growing passion reminiscent of the love affair Sacramento had with the Kings in the early 2000s.
Cal Expo and Bonney Field is located very near interstates 80 and 50. Interstate 80 is the main thoroughfare that connects the Bay Area to Sacramento and beyond to Reno. The surface streets getting into the parking lot are well-marked and easy to navigate. Unfortunately the way the parking lot is set up and where the entrance to the stadium is located, you'll be traveling on foot for a while after you park.
Though Sacramento has a light rail service, it doesn't service this part of the city well. City buses are available as well as bicycle parking.
Keeping with the state fair theme, restrooms are either housed in temporary buildings or are porta-potties. They are plentiful and relatively clean.
Bonney Field is easy to get around as the concourses behind the stands are plenty wide to move through the crowds. Unfortunately you can't see any of the action without a view of the field or very many screens showing the live action. You can nearly make a full circle around the venue with the exception of the VIP area. The one bummer is that if you need to get to the team store or craft beer stand on the west side of the stadium and you're seated on the east side nearest the VIP section, a destination 100 yards away can take 10 or more minutes to get to.
The least expensive ticket is in the general admission supporters section for $13. Since the Republic have a fan base that sells out most games, the secondary market can be much higher than that. Parking is easy to access, albeit far from the stadium, and is an affordable $10. Concession prices are in line with the expectation of any other professional venue.
Republic games are a no-frills experience but the pricing seems to be in line with an elevated stadium experience. Luckily, the quality of play and the fans counter this a bit.
I respect that they put up Bonney Field so quickly and made the soccer match the main event at Bonney Field. However, because of this Bonney Field seems somewhat temporary with a strange fair-like vibe to it. While the monorail and waterslides are charming, the Republic don't have a vast history to pay homage to. What's clear is that the Republic and the city of Sacramento are intent on improving their team and their stadium. I'm excited to see what comes of the game day experience in one, two and ten years.
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