MLS, Sacramento to ‘evaluate’ next steps after lead expansion investor exits deal

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Major League Soccer announced Friday that the league and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg are “evaluating” their next steps after lead investor Ron Burkle backed out of the expansion deal.

“Earlier today, Ron Burkle informed the League that based on issues with the project related to COVID-19, he has decided to not move forward with the acquisition of an MLS expansion team in Sacramento,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement.

Sacramento Republic FC responded to the news in a statement Friday night.

“There is much more information to come about how we will continue our MLS journey. What we do know unequivocally is we have a season ahead just around the corner, three trophies to win, and a community to represent to the world. “

Sacramento Republic FC

The league awarded Sacramento an expansion in 2019.

Sacramento’s announced ownership group included Burkle, founder of The Yucaipa Cos. and an owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, as lead investor. He was joined by entertainment executive Matt Alvarez and Kevin Nagle, an investor in the NBA’s Sacramento Kings who had spearheaded the bid for MLS expansion since 2014.

Burkle’s group had planned a $300 million soccer-specific stadium on a 14-acre site downtown and signed a deal with UC Davis Health to be its MLS jersey sponsor.

But the group had run into cost issues with the proposed stadium site and had yet to break ground on the proposed 21,000-seat stadium. There also was growing concern the team would not be able to start until 2024.

The current Sacramento Republic, founded in December 2012, plays in the second-tier United Soccer League Championship.

The Republic FC was set to make its MLS debut in 2022 at a planned stadium in the downtown Railyards but that was pushed back by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After working for many years to bring an MLS team to Sacramento, the league continues to believe it can be a great MLS market,” MLS said in a statement. “In the coming days, the league will work with Mayor Darrell Steinberg to evaluate possible next steps for MLS in Sacramento.”

MLS Commissioner Don Garber said he remains optimistic about finalizing plans for the league’s 30th team.

“When one door closes, another opens. With the help of Commissioner Garber, the Mayor, and the rest of our ownership group- we will continue on our quest,” said Kevin Nagle in a tweet.

MLS’s 2020 season started Feb. 29 but was interrupted after March 8 by the pandemic. The season resumed July 8 and each team played 23 regular-season games, down from 34 originally scheduled.

As a fallout from pandemic restrictions, attendance dropped from nearly 9 million to about 750,000.

Steinberg’s full statement can be read here:

Sacramento’s rightful quest for Major League soccer is far from done.  It took multiple stops and starts to keep the Kings.  We won then, and we will win again.

I am very disappointed in Ron Burkle’s decision to step out of his October 2019 public commitment to our city.

Despite the difficult past year for our city, we have upheld every commitment to

Mr. Burkle, the league, and our community.   We took major steps to welcome Major League Soccer to a new stadium in The Railyards, and we remain prepared to move forward immediately.

I greatly appreciate the support of Commissioner Don Garber and MLS. They have done right by us, and they continue to stand behind us.

We will still bring MLS to Sacramento, and we will work with the league to find a new lead investor.

We are not starting from scratch by any means. We have an approved stadium plan and an approved plan to build and pay for infrastructure. We also have the best fan base in the country – one that has shown time and time again that it can support an MLS team.

We have only begun to fight for what our city deserves.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinber

The Republic FC made its United Soccer League debut in 2014 and won the championship that same season.

Explore an interactive timeline of Sacramento’s relationship with Major League Soccer below:

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