Business & Real Estate

No decision on expansion likely until 2015, Major League Soccer says

Sacramento Republic FC fan Dapho Kingman of Sacramento had his hair designed to show support in September for the team, prior to a visit from MLS representatives and the USL Pro league’s championship game, which Sacramento won.
Sacramento Republic FC fan Dapho Kingman of Sacramento had his hair designed to show support in September for the team, prior to a visit from MLS representatives and the USL Pro league’s championship game, which Sacramento won. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Sacramentans will probably have to wait longer than expected to find out if the city will be granted a Major League Soccer expansion team.

The league doesn’t expect team owners to vote on the latest round of expansion at their December meeting, as some in Sacramento had believed. Instead, MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said the owners will likely decide the issue early next year at the soonest.

Ever since Sacramento emerged as a serious contender for an MLS franchise in August, community leaders and some executives of minor-league club Sacramento Republic FC have been looking to Dec. 6 as a possible decision date. That’s when MLS owners will meet on the eve of the league’s championship game, the MLS Cup.

With an eye toward that meeting, Republic FC officials set a goal of selling 10,000 season tickets by early December to impress the league’s owners.

Courtemanche, however, said MLS executives have never seen Dec. 6 as a pivotal date.

“We’ve been pretty transparent in saying there’s no rush to make a decision,” said Courtemanche, the league’s executive vice president for communications.

He said expansion will be on the Dec. 6 agenda, although it isn’t clear if the owners will hear presentations from the competing cities.

The league hasn’t set a timetable for an actual vote, either, but he said it’s possible a decision could be made in the first three months of 2015.

Officials with Republic FC had no immediate comment.

Boosted by the extraordinary first-year success of Republic FC, which sold out nearly all of its home games and won the minor league USL Pro championship, Sacramento is believed to be one of two main contenders for an MLS expansion team. The other leading candidate is believed to be Minneapolis, which has two competing investor groups. Other cities are seeking a team as well, including Las Vegas and San Antonio.

“We’re fortunate that we’re in a great situation with the demand from quality markets and quality ownership groups,” Courtemanche said. “We’re going to take our time.”

But he made clear the league isn’t putting off expansion indefinitely. “We are actively engaged with multiple markets,” he said.

While no decision is imminent, Courtemanche said he expects representatives from the competing cities will continue to meet with MLS officials about their bids. Republic FC executives and Mayor Kevin Johnson met with MLS Commissioner Don Garber at league headquarters in New York last week. A major focus of that meeting was providing Garber with details on the team’s plan to build a permanent stadium in the downtown Sacramento railyard, on land that’s being purchased by developer and Republic FC investor Larry Kelley.

MLS officials have said they want a total of 24 franchises on the field by 2020. The league will operate with 20 teams next season, including newcomers in New York and Orlando, and plans to add an Atlanta franchise and a second Los Angeles team in 2017. The 23rd spot has been awarded to Miami, on the condition that a new stadium is built.

That leaves the 24th franchise for Sacramento or one of its rivals. The franchise would likely start play no sooner than 2018.

Sacramento’s bid gained momentum in August, when Johnson and team executives met with MLS officials at the league’s All-Star Game in Portland. A month later, Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott led a delegation through an intense two-day tour of Sacramento that left MLS officials impressed with the city’s credentials.

Republic FC founder Warren Smith has said the team will likely add approximately 3,000 seats to its current stadium, Bonney Field at Cal Expo, in time for next season. That would bring total capacity to 11,000.

As of Thursday, the team said on its “Built for MLS” website that it has 8,084 season-ticket holders toward its goal of 10,000. The figure includes fans who have made $50 refundable deposits to be placed on a waiting list for MLS tickets, should the team gain admission to the league.

Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

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