Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Best logo ever, now-it-can-be-told division

Sacramento sports finally gets it right!

After a long and ho-hum history of generic, mix-and-match, meaningless team names (what in hell is a River Cat, anyway?) Sacramento has rooted one in its barbarous soil.*

Long may it grow.

Granted, "Sacramento Republic FC" is derivative of European soccer club names, but its parts are pure Sacramento, forged from the city's strange and wonderful history.

Those responsible unveiled the team name and logo last week in front of a sell-out crowd at Raley Field, where the Minor League Baseball River Cats play.

Between exhibition games, the latter a "friendly" between Norwich City FC in the English Premier League and Dorados de Sinaloa from Mexico, (with fine logos of their own — fun fact: a dorado is a fish, which you might know better as mahi mahi!) the team owners showed a video designed to pump up the people with the Sacramento team name and logo.

Sacramento Republic FC is set to join the United Soccer Leagues, which serves as a professional development program for Major League Soccer. Long range, the team owners want to turn Sacramento Republic FC into a Major League Soccer expansion team.

With MLS teams a healthy distance apart (San Jose Earthquakes south and Portland Timbers north) and people mad for soccer (a couple of the nationally ranked high school teams are here), the time and place feel right.

Until the logo unveiling, our household were co-conspirators, sworn to secrecy.

That's right, we knew about it. Read and weep, suckers!

Our daughter interns at the company that created the film, going off to undisclosed filming locations these last few weeks. She asked us to be extras in crowd scenes at Sacramento City College's football stadium, but told us not to blab about it.

Plied with ice cream on a warm summer evening, we did what extras do, hurried up and waited. I couldn't see how the filmmakers were going to turn fewer than 200 people into a packed stadium, but the promotional commercial proved me of little faith. It sure looks like a wild riotous crowd. Don't blink.

The film company and the pro soccer promoters and the president of the ownership group were extremely pleased for our help, told us so many times. During lulls, the big cheeses took questions from the faux crowd. When and where will the team play? Will you hold tryouts? Will there be a women's team?

Then one guy in the stands asked if anyone is concerned that the big red star in the crest might provoke people to think of the Soviet Union or communist China.


I forget the diplomatic answer because I was still choking on the question. My answer would have been: Seriously? Have you checked the California flag lately, not to mention the U.S. flag? Stars!

Geez, let's rethink "Republic" while we're at it. Plenty of sinister governments go by that name.

(On the other hand, so what? Intrigue never hurt marketing.)

Still, I'm sure that's why the star on Sacramento Republic FC's crest is brick rather than bright red. The club says the crest, designed by AugustineIdeas advertising firm in nearby Roseville, pulled the colors from the California flag, thus the muted antique tones. It also took the grizzly bear, California's state extinct animal, for the crest.

My favorite part of the crest is "Urbs Indomita," the city motto adopted in 1863. "Indomitable City." The team wanted to honor the city's past, born of the Gold Rush and made manifest by the city's collective stubbornness. Despite years of floods (it was built in haste at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers) and fires and terrible disease, the city survived largely by lifting itself nearly 10 feet on average, clear of the raging rivers.

Sometimes I invoke the motto when I lead tours of the Old Sacramento Underground, unveiling the story of the city's rising.

I'm pulling for the soccer team because it's pulling for the city. It really wants to intertwine.

The Sacramento Kings could still leave and become the Something Something Kings, Anywhere USA. It's a generic name, also used by the National Hockey League in Los Angeles. Sacramento got the team from Kansas City nearly 30 years ago, and despite the Sacramento's herculean effort to keep the team, the Kings could still take its name and run without a dent in our psyche.

The River Cats used to be the Vancouver Canadians baseball club in British Columbia. Kind of a dumb name; the team still exists up there as a lower level minor league club.

The River Cats ownership organized a name-the-team contest, giving us one chance to tie the team inextricably to the area. After all the kerfuffle, "River Cats" is the winning name, following the hollow marketing trend of naming minor league teams River Something Somethings. We have River Bats, River Dogs, Riverhawks and River Bandits. Anywhere there's a river, the River Cats may move without much modification.

The baseball team rejected my proposals: Sacramento Robber Barons (after the Big Four railroad magnates and most politicians today) and the Sacramento Americans (a twist on Vancouver Canadians that would also pay homage to our two rivers).

Damn right I'm bitter. My world, my blog, my rules.

Sacramento has suffered with a string of so-so team names, including the Sacramento Surge (what?) and the Sacramento Mountain Lions for pro football attempts. The Kings ownership group had an indoor pro soccer team, the Knights, and a Women's National Basketball Association team, the Monarchs, which made for a matching set with the Kings, but still had nothing to do with Sacramento. (Fun fact: One of the Knights' charismatic stars was Antonio Sutton, who plays the No. 10 striker scoring the header in the Sacramento Republic FC video.)

Sacramento's longtime Pacific Coast League baseball team before the River Cats was the Solons, the nickname headline writers in the 20th Century sometimes called lawmakers in the state's capital.  Solon was the name an Athenian lawmaker. Yeah, you have to look it up, and the discovery doesn't excite.

Jump-starting the new soccer team's debut, Sacramento Republic FC has already penned a team chant, sung to the tune of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and invented a cheer squad, called the Tower Bridge Battalion (the city's golden bridge linking Sacramento and West Sacramento across the eponymous river). Waving banners and blowing vuvuzelas, the burgundy-clad battalion marched onto the field after the logo unveiling last week.

The Portland Timbers seemed to pull off the same feat, putting team chants and cheer squads in place even before the community could embrace the team, creating instant ancient tradition.

I hope it takes root here. Grow, team, grow.

*Rooted in Barbarous Soil, a great collection of essays about California's gold rush.

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