Sacramento’s MLS expansion bid could move to the front of the pack thanks to the addition of the very kind of big-money owner the bid’s group was lacking.
Businessman and philanthropist Ron Burkle has agreed to purchase a majority stake in the USL’s Sacramento Republic as the club pursues a spot in MLS. He is the founder and managing partner of Yucaipa Companies LLC, a private equity firm in California that holds a stake in many different industries.
He has experience in sports ownership as well. He is a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL, but it’s unknown how much of the team he controls. He’s also tried to purchase the NBA’s Sacramento Kings twice.
“Mr. Burkle is an exceptional leader and businessman, a champion sports owner, a dedicated philanthropist, and someone with a deep appreciation for Sacramento,” Republic CEO Kevin Nagle said in a statement. “He is the ideal person to lead the next chapter of our club.”
The addition of Burkle to the Sacramento ownership group brings some much needed stability to the financial side of their bid. They looked to be a sure thing for a place in the league when the city was one of 12 to submit applications in early 2017. They had one of the top attendance figures in the USL, a committed ownership group, and a stadium that could begin construction at any moment. However an internal squabble within their ownership structure and the inability to secure further investment derailed their efforts and forced the league to pass on them in favor of Cincinnati and Nashville.
Adding a billionaire solves that glaring problem. The move corrects the primary issue with Sacramento’s bid, the lack of an investor with deep enough pockets, and it puts them level with other leading candidates for expansion in terms of money. It also could bump them to the front of the line for the open spot in the league thanks to their shovel ready soccer specific stadium.
Overall, Sacramento can now claim the complete package right here and now. The other leading cities are all missing at least one important part of their bid. St. Louis and Phoenix don’t have ready-to-go stadium plans. Detroit has piles of cash, but refuses to build a place to play. San Diego, Raleigh, Tampa, Charlotte, and the rest all haven’t improved upon their chances since first applying two years ago.
While nothing in MLS expansion is a done deal before Don Garber stamps the final paperwork, Sacramento now has everything the league is asking for when it comes to a new team. Provided they don’t experience any more setbacks, it’s hard to see another market passing them up any time soon.