How the Oakland community is saving their beloved sportstown
The GIST: When it comes to sports franchises, Oakland has suffered its fair share of losses, including the Warriors, Raiders, and most recently, the Athletics. But a new wave of USL soccer teams in the area — powered by a community-driven business model — may be key to ensuring that fans and businesses stay local. The sun shines the best in Oakland.
The departed: Since 1960, at least one major men’s sports franchise has called The Town home, but all that's changed in a matter of years. Besides ongoing population decline in recent years, the main culprit seems to be the city's refusal to bring the Oakland Coliseum into the new millennium.
- The cookie-cutter stadium has been open since 1966, making it the only multi-purpose arena of that era still in use today. Its last major renovation was in 1996, but today, the crumbling infrastructure is home to a bevy of animal infestations.
The new approach: Rather than relying on billionaire whims or government funding, the next era of Oakland sports is fan-driven and community-funded. The men’s semi-pro Oakland Roots SC was founded in 2018, and the women’s Oakland Soul launched in 2022. The teams share the same 3.2K-person ownership group — including celebrities Marshawn Lynch and Billie Joe Armstrong — and a mission of championing gender and racial equity.
- This month, the clubs launched an investor drive with ownership stakes sold for as low as $100, ultimately raising almost $2.2M in a week. This helped the Roots and Soul land exclusive negotiating rights for a lease at the Malibu Lot while the teams look for a permanent home.
Zooming out: The clubs’ mantra of "Our town. Your team" is a business model that not only works for the city’s unique sports challenges, but embraces Oakland's progressive ethos and allows fans to get invested on every level. Rather than big franchises that could easily flee for a bigger market, the latest Oakland teams are built for the people, by the people.
- And the loss of major men's teams could be a plus for women's franchises like the Soul, as they are likely to thrive in cities without as much pro competition. Still, it remains to be seen whether or not this model can sustain enough growth to support eventual pro soccer franchises. One day at a time…one game at a time.