Meet the ‘whales’ who could help bring MLS soccer to Sacramento
After months of behind-the-scenes discussions, we finally know the identities of the “whales” who might lead Sacramento’s Major League Soccer expansion bid.
Text messages between Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, his staff and top Republic FC officials reveal the names of some of the wealthy individuals who local officials have been courting.
Recruiting a deep-pocketed investor to lead Sacramento’s bid is seen as the key element in the city’s years-long campaign to join the top tier of professional soccer in the United States.
The list of potential investors starts with Ron Burkle, a familiar face in the local sports scene. Burkle was part of two separate efforts to purchase the Sacramento Kings, but had to back out in 2013 after his ownership stake in a sports management firm raised concerns of a conflict of interest.
Burkle co-founded a private equity and venture capital firm called The Yucaipa Companies and has been a board member and major shareholder of several companies, including Ralph’s, Alliance Entertainment and Food4Less.
Burkle is also a part owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League. Forbes lists his net worth at $2.3 billion.
The other group that received a lot of attention from City Hall and Republic FC is led by former Sacramento Kings player Omri Casspi, according to text messages obtained by The Bee.
Casspi first expressed an interest in becoming a Republic FC investor in 2014 and has spoken often about his love for soccer.
While Casspi brings local flavor and sports celebrity to his investment group, it appears he has lined up two wealthy investors to add financial heft.
Meyer Orbach is the head of New Jersey-based real estate firm The Orbach Group, which owns hundreds of apartments on the east coast, including many high-end buildings in Manhattan.
Last year, Orbach purchased a 9.5 percent stake in the Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA and expressed interest in buying more shares in the team.
Ezra Stark is the other partner in Casspi’s group, according to text messages. Stark is the chief operating officer of Cleveland-based Stark Enterprises, a real estate firm. The company has been expanding its empire in recent years, especially in the New York area, where it has reportedly set a goal of acquiring $4 billion worth of properties.