Opinion

To bring soccer to Sacramento, Kevin Nagle has put his money where his heart is.

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MLS & Sacramento

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Without Kevin Nagle, we would have no major announcement on Monday that Sacramento was being awarded a Major League Soccer franchise.

Nagle is 65, an investor and philanthropist, a minority owner of the Kings, and now should go down in local history as the indispensable man whose commitment and financial resources kept Sacramento’s MLS dream alive when it easily could have died. Nagle took Sacramento Republic FC from a scrappy start-up team playing minor league soccer at the state fairgrounds to an organization granted entry into America’s premier soccer league.

To do so, Nagle invested millions to run Republic in the last three years, chasing an MLS team dream even when some Republic fans had given up after the soccer league repeatedly picked several cities for franchises ahead of Sacramento. Nagle initially thought he would be the one who owned and ran the Republic as an MLS franchise.

Even when it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen for him, Nagle led the search for a billionaire owner because billionaire owners are now a virtual requirement for entry into any of America’s major sports leagues.

So there Nagle will be on Monday, on stage, but not front and center.

Opinion

Billionaire supermarket magnate, Ron Burkle, the man Nagle recruited, will be in the spotlight as Sacramento’s newest major sports owner. And Nagle wasn’t the one who came up with the idea of starting a team from scratch and taking it to MLS. That prayer of a brainstorm was hatched by entrepreneur Warren Smith and his partner Joe Wagoner.

By definition, inspiration and ridiculous fortune are more sexy than the serious, committed man in the middle whose steady presence was a bridge between the two forces at the heart of Sacramento’s soccer dream.

If there is justice in the sports world, then Nagle will get his moment to bask in the appreciation of fans and residents alike who either love the sport and are thrilled Sacramento is on the map in American soccer, or they love that Sacramento is adding a major amenity that is largely privately financed. A stadium is expected to anchor a gigantic property adjacent to downtown that has sat empty adjacent to downtown for generations until now.

Who notices the bridge when the view on either side is so appealing?

Well, Sacramento should notice. Because without this bridge, the dream that Warren and Wagoner sold people over beers and coffee would never have arisen so that a big player such as Burkle was interested.

So on Monday, if this MLS celebration is worth anything at all, Nagle should get his moment of recognition when an expected crowd of thousands cheers for this new opportunity to gather together. Nagle saw that potential for that dream right at the outset of Republic’s first season in 2014.

He wanted to make money, sure. But he saw the Republic playing in the railyards as a civic ambition worth realizing.

Nagle is a measured, amiable man who laughs easily and who is completely self-made. Nagle grew up in Long Beach without his dad in the picture and raised by a single mom. He keeps a picture of himself in the Long Beach Little League, the only kid on his team without a cap because he couldn’t afford one.

Nagle always had a way with numbers. He was a data geek before they were cool. He was smart enough to attend USC on scholarship.

He made a lot of money in business. Nagle and his partners sold EnvisionRx, a drug benefit company, for $2 billion in 2015. But his passion was, and always has been, sports. Nagle bought into Republic even though he knew little about soccer. But he recognized the growth of American soccer and thought it was the most realistic sport to bring to a diverse Sacramento population that is passionate about soccer.

It’s been quite the journey since then, with plenty of pitfalls, pratfalls, near-misses, calamities and conference calls with lawyers. And those stories should and will be told after Monday’s big announcement.

But for now, while Sacramento is in a celebratory mood, the state capital can also celebrate one of of its most significant transplants. Based in El Dorado Hills, Nagle is also one of the most significant local owners of the Kings –and now Republic as well.

He loves the city, loves the region and his put his own money behind ventures that have made Sacramento better.

That alone, is worth of celebration.

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Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.
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