Soccer

St. Louis joins Major League Soccer. Meanwhile, Sacramento has its ‘eyes on the prize.’

MLS Commissioner gives his thoughts on Sacramento’s potential for Republic FC

MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Sacramento’s addition of investors Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez was the key to igniting the city’s efforts to win an expansion franchise for Republic FC.
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MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Sacramento’s addition of investors Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez was the key to igniting the city’s efforts to win an expansion franchise for Republic FC.

Major League Soccer officials on Tuesday formally announced St. Louis has been awarded an expansion franchise, making the Gateway City the 28th to join the league, and leaving just two more expansion slots open.

Will Sacramento be next up?

Officials here say an ownership group – headed by Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle, partner Matt Alvarez, and local businessman Kevin Nagle – is in daily negotiations on final details of a deal that, if consummated, would bring a team to the capital city in 2022.

The group, which initially hoped to have secured a spot by now, does not have a timetable for finalizing a deal, but representatives suggest it could be soon.

“There is not an hour that goes by that we are not working on closing out this deal,” Republic FC team president Ben Gumpert said Tuesday. “We are not 100 percent done and sealed, but we have our eyes on the prize and want to get there as quickly as possible.”

Gumpert said Mayor Darrell Steinberg has been involved in the efforts.

Sacramento earlier this year appeared to have a lead on St. Louis in the effort to land a franchise. Sacramento has plans in place for a $250 million stadium in the downtown railyard. There’s also an agreement from the city on $33 million worth of assistance on permit fees, infrastructure and signage rights.

In his most recent public comments about the Sacramento bid, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said three weeks ago talks are ongoing, but the size of the initial investment to join the league requires a massive commitment.

The league has set a $200 million franchise fee for the ownership groups in St. Louis and Sacramento.

“There are no hiccups,” Garber said of the Sacramento talks. “These are lifetime decisions for an investor to make. These are massive commitments. It takes time.”

Garber was in St. Louis on Tuesday to announce that city’s entrance into the league.

“This is a game-changing dream ownership group for St. Louis and our league,” Garber said. “Thank you for believing in our league. Thank you for joining us in this journey trying to make a true soccer nation.”

Carolyn Kindle Betz, of the family that owns the Enterprise rental car company, is among the St. Louis ownership group. She said the soccer team will help the city grow.

”The goal is to bring more tourists, revenues and create more jobs,” she said. “We cannot wait to see this all take place.”

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Tony Bizjak has been reporting for The Bee for 30 years. He covers transportation, housing and development and previously was the paper’s City Hall beat reporter.
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