Oakland, California is famous for its unwavering commitment to storied franchises like the recently-departed Golden State Warriors and Las Vegas Raiders. Though still in their infancy, the Oakland Roots SC (Sports Club) is aiming to forge their own bonds with the city by redefining what it means to be a professional sports team.
The Roots were founded in 2018 by a group of Oakland natives and began to play in the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), the third tier of American professional soccer, in 2019.
The team operates with two mantras, “Oakland first, always” and “know your roots.” Mike Geddes, a co-founder and chief purpose officer of the Roots, said the first motto “keeps us focused on always thinking about the community. Not that it only matters if you’re from Oakland, but our focus is our community and the values that the community of Oakland represents.”
In a 2019 interview with SFGate, Edreece Arghandiwal, another co-founder and the Roots’ chief marketing officer, said, “We talked a lot about knowing where you come from and knowing your roots.” These discussions determined both the team’s name and their second motto.
Geddes said the team is driven by more than simply winning soccer games. “If we’re going to have the city of Oakland on our crest, we need to stand up to the same values that Oakland has historically championed, which is racial and gender equity and equal opportunities for everybody,” he said.
He also said that the authenticity and commitment demanded from an Oakland team by its fanbase pushes them to do as much as they can for their community as the Roots’ inception “was not about us saying ‘we’re going to bring pro soccer to Oakland.’ It was about asking the community, ‘what would you want to see in a pro soccer team coming to the city of Oakland?’”
The team hopes to change the sports business model by getting involved with politics, which they define as anything that interacts with the public space. “We don’t believe that politics and sports are separate. I think that if we are playing, we are a public organization in that we create a product that we want to take to the people of Oakland,” Geddes said. “We don’t believe we can disassociate ourselves from the realities of society.”
The Roots have gotten involved with the Oakland community through various social justice initiatives, such as promoting racial and gender equality and setting up voter registration opportunities.
Geddes said it is important that the team have a philanthropic arm, but he also noted the financial difficulties that come with being a fairly young franchise. As a result, the Roots partnered with the East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF) to create the Roots Justice Fund, which will focus on donating money to causes dealing with the intersection of racial and gender justice. The fund will officially launch Oct. 10 when the Roots hold the Justice Match, a mixed-gender soccer game designed to promote racial and gender justice awareness as well as raise money for the fund.
Over the summer, the Roots partnered with Common Goal, which, according to their website, focuses on “uniting the global football community in tackling the greatest social challenges of our time.” Star soccer athletes, like the United States women’s national team player Alex Morgan, have individually partnered with Common Goal, but the Roots were the first American soccer club to work with the organization, agreeing to pledge 1% of player and staff wages, as well as ticket revenues, to help fight social inequality.
“This is a great example of how purpose drives our business because in no other arena of football, would we be able to be on the same field as say Megan Rapinoe. To have this connection with clubs through this shared commitment to purpose, we’re able to do that,” Geddes said. “The ability for us to be part of it was also great for our players and staff because it gives them the ability to each individually feel like they are part of this bigger movement to create a different type of soccer.”
Like other professional sports teams, the Roots are encouraging their supporters to get registered to vote. They partnered with Rally the Vote to create their own voter registration site that fans of the organization could use in preparation for casting their ballots.
The Roots also united with six other Bay Area sports teams to show their support on Proposition 16, which would repeal California’s ban on affirmative action in the public sector. Geddes said, “This was an opportunity for us to use our platform, such as, it is being that we’re very young and growing, to support legislation which we believe is important and very much in line with the values that are important to us as a club.”
While the Roots have found success off the field, they have also enjoyed a meteoric rise up the American soccer pyramid. In 2021, the team will begin playing in the United Soccer League (USL) Championship, the second-highest level of American soccer.
“We think that the increased platform is going to give us a greater ability to live our purpose,” Geddes said. “We see the move to the USL as an opportunity not just to bring a high level of soccer to Oakland, but to bring more of ourselves to the rest of the country and showcase how we believe that by really putting the community first, you can be successful right across the board.”