After years of playing, Sacramento has reached its position in Major League Soccer. What happened? It's about the money
In an exclusive interview on Sacramento's five-year quest to join the leading professional football league in the US, MLS commission commissioner Don Garber told The Sacramento Bee. And it was almost the 90th minute. Next month, the league team will meet to discuss adding a 28th team.
Garber told The Sacramento Bee on Friday night that Sacramento and St. Louis are not just the frontrunners to win a team this year. The two have "by far the strongest bid". Garber did not want to tell if any of the cities are both in league with solid footballing stories.
"Both are strong offerings, both are great markets, both have worked very hard at the political level, very much at the level of ownership, and certainly the fans have shown tremendous support in every market," said Garber.
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The commissioner's remarks are welcome news for Sacramento, who had slackened for years as they strived for league football, announcing their success at second division Republic FC and beating only Cincinnati, Nashville and Austin.
MLB officials said Sacramento simply did not have the funds in its previously-assembled ownership group to meet the high demands of a fast-growing and expensive league. The entry fee to join the league is $ 150 million and could be higher than MLS selects the next city in the league. The cost of a new stadium in downtown Railyard is expected to be $ 300 million.
And MLS teams are not sure yet, said the commissioner. Ownership groups need to be strong enough to invest in promoting and building their product without making a short-term profit.
"We're still working with a founding mentality," said Garber. In this scenario, "Sacramento had very little chance of winning an MLS franchise until leading investor Ron Burkle, a billionaire, businessman, film producer and owner of the National Hockey League Pittsburgh Penguins, landed.
Burkle and his partner, Matt Alvarez, a longtime Hollywood film producer with a series of hit films, appeared in public last month when Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced that the couple had signed a contract to take over the Republic FC brand. depending on the conclusion of an MLS franchise agreement.
But Burkle and Alvarez have been behind the scenes for more than a year, Garber said, speaking to MLS and city officials, "to make sure it makes sense for them … and to decide if this is something could be a real investment. "The Bee reported on their interest for the first time last year.
Garber said he first phoned Burkle to join Sacramento in December 2017.
"I have great respect for everything Ron has achieved as a businessman as well as a businessman, but Ron is a very respected National Hockey League owner and has done a great job with this club," said Garber.
Alvarez spoke with The Bee last week, saying that the more Burkle and he explored the possibility of franchising, the better. "We were looking forward to Sacramento very quickly," he said. "This is a wonderful city. It is already over at the threshold to be a very cultured, varied, great city that has a lot to offer many people. "
Alvarez believes his group has done almost everything to convince MLS that Sacramento should be the next city. Burkle and Alvarez recently presented themselves to Garber in New York. "We came out of the meeting feeling confident where we are sitting," he said. "We are in a great position."
Burkle and Alvarez were recruited by the President of the Republic FC, Kevin Nagle, the team president Ben Gumpert and the mayor. Gumpert said on Friday night that the group was "as optimistic as ever, about what awaits our fans and our city."
Garber said the expansion will be a key point of discussion at the Governors' meeting of the League next month in Los Angeles. Sacramento and St. Louis may be asked to give presentations. Garber, however, declined to say whether the league is ready for the 28th team's selection next month.
"We agreed with Ron and Matt, the mayor and St. Louis, that we will make a decision before the end of the year, most likely much sooner," said Garber.
Alvarez was in Sacramento on Wednesday to continue negotiating a term sheet business deal with city officials. Steinberg said the city will not invest as much in the stadium as they did with the King's Golden 1 Center, but will ask for the city, an infrastructure financing district for the 31-acre stadium grounds east of 7th Street in the City of London Downtown Railyard has some development fees and the team can build multiple digital billboards.
Steinberg said he hopes to have a deal before the MLS board meeting, which will be submitted to the City Council for approval. "Then it is an absolute turning point in the direction of the league, not just to present our case, but to say that we have made great efforts," said the mayor.
Burkle, a supermarket tycoon who rarely speaks publicly, previously led a group that wanted to buy the Sacramento Kings when the Maloof family threatened to move the team. Burkle gave up this effort. According to Steinberg, the businessman has aroused a strong interest in Sacramento.
Burkle, known as a great sports fan, has been owned by the Penguins ice hockey team for 20 years. He was seen on national television when he cheered a month ago with Gisele Bundchen, the wife of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, in a luxury box in the Super Bowl.
A new MLS franchise would take the place of Republic FC, who has represented Sacramento in the second division of the United Soccer League since 2014, but would retain the name of Republic FC.