City Beat

Sacramento still fighting as Major League Soccer explores expansion

An artist’s rendering shows what a Major League Soccer stadium in Sacramento’s downtown railyard could look like.
An artist’s rendering shows what a Major League Soccer stadium in Sacramento’s downtown railyard could look like. Sacramento Republic FC

As Major League Soccer’s expansion derby continues, the league’s top officials have made the rounds in recent days, from Los Angeles to St. Louis to Miami. And the leadership team behind Sacramento’s expansion efforts wants everyone to know the city is still ready to leap into the nation’s premiere pro soccer circuit.

A group led by Mayor Kevin Johnson and the owners of Sacramento Republic FC have begun studying the regional market appetite for MLS, the economic impact of a new stadium and the feasibility of building a stadium in the downtown railyard. The mayor has said no public subsidies will be available for what could be a $150 million stadium project.

Dubbed “Operation Turnkey,” the group has also begun assembling a team that will put together stadium designs, construction documents and the site’s environmental review. All of Republic FC’s key owners are involved, including lead investor Kevin Nagle, the owners of the San Francisco 49ers and Sacramento Kings, local developer Mark Friedman and Larry Kelley, another developer who is purchasing the 240-acre railyard site.

“We are focused like a laser on bringing MLS to Sacramento and prepared to move forward at a moment’s notice,” the mayor said in an emailed statement.

The local group is promoting the success of Republic FC, which is ranked first in the lower-division USL in ticket revenue, season tickets and attendance. The club has sold out 20 of its last 21 league matches. “Sacramento is proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are ready for MLS,” Nagle said.

MLS plans to expand from its current 20 teams to 24, likely by 2018. League Commissioner Don Garber, speaking in St. Louis last week, said the league will finalize another round of expansion within the next year. He said St. Louis could be part of that round, but added “you’d also like to see Sacramento as part of that round and a handful of other cities.”

St. Louis is trying to build a new stadium for the NFL’s Rams that could also house an MLS franchise.

Meanwhile, in Miami, plans for an MLS stadium could finally be gaining some traction after Garber met Friday with former international soccer star David Beckham and political leaders. Beckham and Miami have been granted an expansion club, contingent upon their ability to construct a stadium.

Media reports out of Miami said Beckham and the University of Miami are in talks about building a stadium that the soccer club and the university’s football team would share. The location is near the site of the former Orange Bowl and next to Marlins Park, home of major-league baseball’s Marlins, but outside of Miami’s urban core.

Also last week, on May 18, the expansion Los Angeles Football Club announced its plans for a $250 million stadium near Memorial Coliseum. It would be the most expensive privately financed soccer stadium in the country, the Los Angeles Times reported.

MLS recently awarded an expansion slot to Minneapolis. Negotiations on some form of tax relief for a stadium in that city are underway.

Major League Soccer expansion plans

Major League Soccer is fielding 20 teams in the current season, with expansion spots granted to four more cities:

Atlanta – City was awarded expansion franchise in 2014. Team is expected to begin play in 2017.

Los Angeles – New team in L.A. plans to build $250 million stadium and take the field in 2018.

Miami – Group led by international star David Beckham was awarded expansion slot last year. However, team won’t officially launch until Miami has a stadium deal.

Minneapolis – City was awarded an expansion spot this year with an expected launch date of 2018. Owners of lower-division Minnesota United are exploring stadium options, but no deal is in place yet.

These three cities are contending for the next expansion slots:

Sacramento – City is exploring stadium plans, has deep-pocketed owners in place and a successful lower-division team in Republic FC.

St. Louis – MLS visited the city last week. City trying to build a stadium for the NFL’s Rams that could house MLS franchise.

San Antonio – Owner of lower-division Scorpions wants to expand current stadium to meet MLS standards, but city appears to be a long shot.

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