We told you. Sacramento’s dream of landing a Major League Soccer franchise is still very much alive. But making it a reality is going to cost us.
To beat out competing bids from Detroit and Cincinnati, MLS made clear on Thursday that the city needs more investors. A multimillionaire, maybe. Or better yet a billionaire who, as lead investor Kevin Nagle told fans, “will protect the spirit, culture and values” of our indomitable, minor-league soccer team, Republic FC.
“No question,” he cautioned, “this will be a tall task.”
It really shouldn’t be, though.
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Sure, the MLS expansion fee has grown to $150 million and the cost of building a new stadium in the downtown railyard has jumped by $70 million to a whopping $250 million. But it’s not like people who would consider that chump change are hard to find in California.
As Mayor Darrell Steinberg said at a press conference Thursday morning: “We have a funding gap, that’s no secret, but it’s one that can be fixed. The gap will be fixed.”
Here’s a fun fact: If you add up the worth of the nine richest people in the Bay Area, it comes out to about $213 billion, which is more than the net worth of 25 percent of the world’s population – the poorest 25 percent, that is.
Not surprisingly then, California is home to the biggest concentration of billionaires in the country, with about 120 of them making up a total net worth of more than $532 billion. And that was before Republicans rammed a tax cut though Congress. A good number of them work in the technology industry just down the road in the Silicon Valley, which is also where about 40 percent of the nation’s venture capital investment is based.
So rich people, we’ve got. Now, all Sacramento needs to do is find one or two of them to believe in us – and despite Silicon Valley executive Meg Whitman’s decision to withdraw again as an investor, there are plenty of reasons to do so when it comes to professional soccer.
Sacramento really is the perfect market for a successful MLS expansion team. The league’s commissioner, Don Garber, has been saying so for four years, ever since he first summed up the capital city’s shot at a franchise as a matter of “not if, but when.”
We’ve got the right demographics. Sacramento is one of the most ethnically and racially diverse cities in the country, matching market research about soccer fans. The city is also growing, mostly with highly educated young people from the Bay Area. Many of them live mere miles from where the City Council has agreed to put a new soccer stadium as an anchor in the downtown railyard – a development that’s likely to intensify the creation of a so-called “mega-region” between Sacramento and San Francisco.
Compare all of that to what’s happening in Cincinnati and Detroit.
Both Midwestern cities, much like Sacramento, are going through a renaissance. Millennials are moving back to their revitalized downtowns, filling up their swanky new apartment buildings and investing their time and talent in various trades.
But Detroit, in particular, remains a shadow of its former self. It’s far from the bankrupt, bombed-out, urban dystopia that you might remember from recession-era photographs, but it still has financial problems and plenty of urban blight. Plus, the city’s billionaire ownership group wants Detroit’s team to play at Ford Field, a 15-year-old stadium where the Detroit Lions play. But MLS isn’t into sharing or hand-me-downs from the NFL.
Cincinnati is probably in a better position economically, with its slowly growing population. But the city has yet to to settle on a financially workable site for a stadium, and assuming it does, a team playing there would have its matches broadcast on the smallest TV market in MLS.
Plus, neither Detroit nor Cincinnati has population as diverse as Sacramento, or boasts weather as nice as Sacramento year-round.
Indeed, California’s capital city and Republic FC have a lot to offer MLS. We know it. It’s time for wealthy soccer fans from the Bay Area – or wherever – to know it, too.