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Sacramento Republic FC Makes a Child’s Dream Come True

Fulfilling a wish through the Make-A-Wish foundation, Republic FC signed 15-year-old Matthew Harding to a one-game contract. 

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Republic FC

Indomitable.

That word is a core part of the Sacramento Republic FC’s identity, inspired by the city’s founding during the Gold Rush era nearly two centuries ago. It describes the club’s fans who are passionate, resilient, and community-driven.

It also describes Matthew Harding, a 15-year-old cancer patient who Republic FC signed to a one-game contract last month.

Fulfilling Matthew’s wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the club welcomed Matthew into its family. Initially asked to do something along the lines of hosting him at a practice, Republic FC wanted to do more than that. With this being the first sports-related wish at this level in the Sacramento area, Ben Gumpert, the president and COO of Republic FC, explained that the club’s thought process was simple: “If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right.”

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The outcome of Matthew’s wish didn’t just involve him meeting a player, it involved him becoming a player. Over the course of Matthew’s week with Republic FC, he was signed to a contract during a surprise conference at UC Davis Children’s hospital, trained with the team, and was in the roster during its game against the Las Vegas Lights, where he scored in the first minute.

The club did so much to make Matthew’s experience special that it left one of the players joking about how when he was signed, he didn’t get a press conference. Jokes aside, the experience was incredibly meaningful, not just to Matthew but to the players and the front office, many of whom admitted to being humbled by the experience.

The fans rallied behind Matthew as well, an event which made the club’s executive vice president and co-founder Joe Wagoner proud of the community he and Republic FC had built.

Both Wagoner and Gumpert believe that Republic FC, and sports teams in general, have a responsibility to give back to their communities.

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“We have a platform and that platform can be used in a lot of different ways. We strongly feel that at the Republic, we need to use that in a way that shines a light on issues in our community to raise awareness,” he said.

Wagoner agreed by saying, “it’s sports’ obligation to support and give back to their communities.”

This certainly didn’t feel like an obligation, though. Wagoner has worked in the industry for over 20 years, but admitted that this weekend was nothing like he’d seen before.

“We actually signed the player, he came to training, he actually got in the game, and I’ve never seen a group of fans rally around an effort like I saw them rally around Matthew and his Make-A-Wish goal,” he said.

While this was the organization’s first time working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, it was not their first time working with UC Davis Health, a long-standing partner of the club, or the greater Sacramento community.

The team regularly sends players to visit kids in the UC Davis Children’s Hospital and local schools, and has partnered with organizations like World Relief to host soccer camps for refugees and Susan G. Komen to raise awareness for breast cancer.

While they have no other wishes in the works at the moment, Republic FC’s indomitable spirit will continue to persist in the community — and the memory of the week with Matthew won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

“We got to fulfill a kid’s dream,” said Wagoner.

Lucy is a contributing writer for Front Office Sports. A storyteller and brand strategist, she has worked in the sports industry for organizations including the United States Olympic Committee, IMG/WME and the Miami Open, the University of Miami Athletic Department, Florida Panthers, and Minnesota Twins. She spent 2016 living in Colombia where she accomplished a life-long goal of becoming fluent in Spanish while working for the Ministerio de Educación Nacional. Lucy is a graduate of the University of Miami. She can be reached at lucy@frntofficesport.com.

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Roaring Riot Helps Build Camaraderie With Carolina Panthers Fans

Roaring Riot has provided a unique experience for Panthers fans by traveling to away games and showing out at home games.

Aaron Blake

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(*Varsity Partners are a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports)

NFL fan bases are wildly passionate and people flock from all over the country — literally — to support their teams. That’s the main reason why Roaring Riot, a Carolina Panthers fan experience organization, has created a space for its biggest team supporters from all across the world to engage with each other and have fun.

As one of the newer teams in the NFL, the Panthers, whose inaugural season came in 1996, have had one of the weaker fan bases in the league, according to Zack Luttrell, founder of Roaring Riot. Being smaller makes it all the more necessary to unite and amplify the fan base through passionate people.

Roaring Riot is essentially a membership entity uniting willing Panthers fans by traveling to away games, showing out at home games, and creating experiences that last more than a season.

“The root of everything we do is about being together,” said Luttrell. “We travel together, stay at the same hotels, tailgate together, and, most importantly, we sit together at the games.”

Although simple in nature, Luttrell and co-founder Joe Ryan has established a mission that works and produces results.

Beginning in 2008 in Atlanta, an idea blossomed into a 2009 “Georgia Dome Takeover.” From then, Roaring Riot has instilled its brand in Charlotte and across the NFL as a network with over 5,500 Panthers fans.

“What we have done is provide a platform for Panthers fans to connect with one another, whether it be at home games or most certainly in other cities, spanning 44 states and 14 countries,” said Luttrell.

SEE MORE: Exploring Fan Experience Trends and Opportunities

As an organization of this stature, success will not arise in one season, nor will a following. As any good startup company or entity knows, one must have solid branding and a clear image.

“There are an honesty and passion that embodies the Roaring Riot brand, and it all starts with the people involved,” said Tim Rebich, principal at Varsity Partners. “As a member, you are not just handed a t-shirt and a sticker, but an active part of a fan base driven by grassroots fan experiences and community impact.”

Initially, Rebich and Luttrell worked together to define the foundational brand ethos, which helped transform a traveling group of friends into what Roaring Riot would become. The Roaring Riot then took a life of its own, setting up grassroots events, social media and coordinating travel and tailgate experiences.

“The culture of the Roaring Riot is the brand,” said Rebich. “It’s fun to watch fans become part of the Roaring Riot, and then make it into their own experience.”

So much of the Roaring Riot is centered on experiences and traveling, but Luttrell knows community building is the cornerstone. “Communities bond everyone over their love of the team, which enables them to embrace their differences.”

Roaring Riot believes it does not matter if you have been involved for a long time, been to away game experiences, tailgates or are a first-timer; people should make the experience.

“By the end of the experience, you’ve met a ton of new Panthers fans and in most cases leave with several new friends,” said Luttrell. “Our group is a family, and all of our members treat one another as such.”

(*Varsity Partners are a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports)

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