Meetup helps Sacramento hobbyists find each other

scaiola@sacbee.comFebruary 17, 2014 

William Land envisioned the park he developed as a public space for use by anyone, such as this group who found it a good place for a flag football game.

SACRAMENTO BEE FILE PHOTO

When Patrick Guerra came home from Afghanistan last year and settled into classes at Sacramento State, he was in search of new friends and a way to stay fit.

Guerra could have signed up for a recreational sports league or hit the bars. Instead, he went to online social network Meetup.com and became a spirited leader of a ragtag group called Activities and Sports for the Awesomely Mediocre.

Between swigs of water on a muddy field in Curtis Park, Guerra explained how playing flag football with a dozen strangers became a regular Saturday morning activity.

“It’s always a time in life to make new friends,” he said. “My whole view on it is I don’t ever want to stop having new experiences. I don’t want to stop meeting new people, and I don’t want to stop learning.”

Activities and Sports for the Awesomely Mediocre is one of nearly 500 Sacramento-based social groups created on Meetup.com, which connects people online for the purpose of having them socialize in person.

More than 73,000 Sacramentans are registered on Meetup.com, said Meetup Headquarters Community Lead Kate Hawley, and registration numbers are increasing every year. There have been 27 Sacramento Meetup groups founded in the past month. The continual growth is in stride with the wider network, which now serves nearly 16 million people in 196 countries.

Of the 10 largest Sacramento Meetups, hiking groups dominate five spots and include more than 14,000 registrants. Also in the top 10 are Really Cool People from Downtown/Midtown; Pitbull Lovers; Freethinkers, Atheists and Nonbelievers; and The Sacramento Vegan Society.

After noticing a few group leaders organizing Ultimate Frisbee games, Guerra started a weekly flag football event. A group of seven men and women showed up on a recent Saturday, only one of whom Guerra knew pre-Meetup and only two of whom knew one another. The group usually gathers for lunch after the game to catch up and welcome new members.

“To me, it’s gone to prove what I’ve always believed – that people in general are good people,” he said. “And in this whole Meetup group, we haven’t met a single mean person.”

Anyone can start a Meetup group around any theme, be it career building or ballroom dancing. The Sacramento directory of 468 resident-generated groups includes the Sacramento Hot Air Balloon Team and Whole Food Plant-based Toddler Moms – and that doesn’t even scrape the surface. To join a Meetup group, a person can register a free account, search for a certain interest in a given geographic area and attend or not attend posted events.

“It’s superprominent,” said Kyle Cassano, partner at social media consulting agency Sacramento Marketing Labs, who runs three Sacramento Meetups. “Once you’re on Meetup, it’s not uncommon to be looking at hiking, and next thing you know you’ve been on the computer for an hour and you’re in 12 groups.”

Cassano has seen everything from tech startups to marriages take seed during his Meetup events.

“You can make solid connections online, but those connections are strengthened when you meet people in the physical world, offline,” he added.

Meetups can be held at bars, parks, athletic facilities and even in members’ homes. Rudy Perez, organizer of 1,000-person Meetup NorCal Snowboarders, said choosing venues for his group has bolstered his ties to local businesses.

The group, which organizes weekly carpools of 60 to 70 people to Tahoe ski resorts, has agreements with a handful of local gear shops in which anyone with a NorCal Snowboarders sticker is granted a special discount. When Perez hosted the preseason party at Clark’s Snow Sports in Roseville last year, the group spent thousands of dollars in a matter of hours, he said.

“A lot of our group is business professionals,” said Perez. “If we go to a bar, they’re going to buy alcohol, and if we go to a store, they’re going to buy gear.”

Dan Dreher, owner of Folsom Lake Sports Bar, said he has noticed a number of Meetup groups frequenting his location in the past three years, including the Folsom Leading Young Professionals and the Chamber of Commerce. Meetup groups often call in advance to reserve seating or special equipment like microphones, he said, and they return consistently.

“They’re bringing in bigger groups of people instead of just a couple at a time,” Dreher said. “We work really hard to accommodate them and make it easy and possible for them to hold their function with us.”

Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.

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