In a follow up to multiple earlier pieces on this topic, the Sacramento bid for a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchise took a positive step forward on Wednesday with the announcement that billionaire Ron Burkle has agreed to become the lead investor.
Mr. Burkle is a co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League, so he brings capital investment, financial long-term stability, and sports franchise ownership experience to the Sacramento bid. The Mayor of Sacramento and Mr. Burkle will be travelling to MLS headquarters in New York in February based on the reports today by The Sacramento Bee regarding this significant news.
The Sacramento bid for entry into MLS was once seen as a “sure thing”, and in the years since it has fallen onto difficulties which have prevented the capital city of The Golden State from gaining access into the premier soccer league in North America.
The lack of a bona fide billionaire investor concerned MLS to the point that Nashville and Cincinnati were chosen as expansion cities before Sacramento. The support of the community, the politicians, and the business community has never wavered and that will serve the investors of the Sacramento MLS team well once it is successful in gaining a new franchise.
The news today also included that Mr. Burkle has purchased the land for the proposed new soccer stadium in the downtown Railyards district as well as the adjacent 14 acres that will be developed into mixed-use retail, entertainment, and other options for fans prior to and after the matches held at the stadium.
This proposed stadium has been approved and supported locally for a couple of years and the Sacramento Republic minor league team still has remarkable attendance from a loyal fan base. These are all positive factors, that combined with Mr. Burkle’s expertise and financial backing, should result in Sacramento being named the 28th franchise in league history at some point in 2019.
The city attracted the attention of MLS executives by the large attendance numbers they have logged consistently over the past approximately five years. The league could also benefit from having another team in California with a rivalry built in with the Bay Area’s San Jose Earthquakes and the proximity of Sacramento with the Pacific Northwest franchises in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver.
The city is also a mid-way point for teams in Southern California: LA FC and the LA Galaxy and can be a stopping point for Midwest and East Coast teams on road trips from LA to the Pacific Northwest. The logistics for Sacramento strengthens the bid for expansion as well.
The question now for those who have followed the expansion of MLS from the beginning is whether or not the league office will approve another round of future new franchises. The league had previously identified 28 as the number it wanted to grow to in this round of expansion.
However, in recent weeks, MLS Commissioner Don Garber has indicated that the league may decide to go beyond the 28 team number it had identified in the past. The front runners now besides Sacramento appear to be St. Louis and Phoenix. In my opinion, I think that the Phoenix bid has some issues that need to fixed before it can move forward.
Sacramento and the fans of the Republic FC have certainly been on a roller coaster ride with this team, but in the end it looks like the pieces are in place for them to finally get a seat at the MLS table.
The meeting in February will provide more insight into the future for the Sacramento bid. Then, the question of when they will join the league will be the final answer for soccer fans in that city.