City Beat

Major League Soccer sees 'positive step' for Cincinnati. What now for Sacramento?

Sacramento faces 'funding gap' in Major League Soccer bid, Mayor Steinberg says

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg held a press conference Dec. 21 to discuss Major League Soccer's decision to delay the announcement of the league's next franchise until next year.
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Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg held a press conference Dec. 21 to discuss Major League Soccer's decision to delay the announcement of the league's next franchise until next year.

Sacramento is once again falling behind in the race for a Major League Soccer expansion team. But that appears to have changed very little in the city's years-long campaign to join the big league ranks.

Cincinnati took a big leap Monday when the City Council voted 5-4 to contribute nearly $40 million to a new soccer stadium near downtown. Cincinnati – a finalist for Major League Soccer expansion along with Sacramento and Detroit – had been juggling three potential stadium locations for months, but now appears to have solidified its preferred site near the city's urban core.

A day after the Cincinnati vote, the MLS board of governors met in Los Angeles and discussed the three expansion cities, among other topics, according to a statement.

"The MLS Board of Governors viewed the recent Cincinnati City Council vote on the West End stadium as a positive step forward for Cincinnati’s expansion bid," the statement read. "While there was no plan for formal expansion vote at today’s Board of Governors meeting, the League will continue discussions with the three expansion finalists."

Assuming Cincinnati gets the nod as the 26th franchise, what does that mean for Sacramento?

For now, it won't change much in Sacramento's strategy. Republic FC and team owner Kevin Nagle are still in regular discussions with potential investors.

Nagle said in a written statement that Republic FC "remains in close contact with MLS as we work to strengthen our bid and move closer to delivering the MLS club our fans and community deserve."

"We are as optimistic as ever that we will reach our goal and look forward to sharing more updates in the future," Nagle said.

If the league chooses Cincinnati, Sacramento still has a chance in the next round of expansion. MLS has said it will award expansion teams to a 27th and 28th city, but has not provided a time line.

Nagle has been in advanced conversations with three to five deep-pocketed groups that could serve as the lead investors in Sacramento's expansion effort.

There has been speculation that billionaire Ron Burkle is among the potential investors. Burkle and Nagle were seen courtside at a Sacramento Kings game in March. The team has declined comment on Burkle.

Meanwhile, interest in MLS from wealthy investors remains high. An 8 percent ownership stake in Orlando City SC recently sold for an amount that values the franchise at nearly $500 million just $34 million less than the Kings' value when the ownership group led by Vivek Ranadive purchased a controlling interest in 2013.

Long considered a front-runner for an MLS franchise, Sacramento's bid faltered late last year after Nagle and Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced they were searching for a billionaire lead investor.

The Sacramento group has been told by MLS that it needs someone with deep pockets not only to help cover a $150 million expansion fee and $250 million stadium construction budget, but to ensure the franchise remains financially stable in the future.

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