Sources: Major League Soccer and Sacramento agree to deal framework for expansion franchise

Sacramento representatives and soccer officials have agreed to the framework of a deal that would bring a Major League Soccer expansion franchise to Sacramento in 2022, and are now sewing up final details, sources told The Sacramento Bee.

Officials with the league and team declined this week to discuss the status of those talks, which have been ongoing since late April.

The team put out a statement Friday afternoon, saying it is working tirelessly on a deal.

“We appreciate the great excitement and anticipation in our community about Sacramento’s bid to join Major League Soccer,” the statement read. “As we have stated all along, we are working tirelessly to finalize an agreement to bring MLS to a city and a fanbase that deserves it. We respect the league’s expansion process and will not be providing any additional comment at this time.”

Sacramento Republic FC President Ben Gumpert two weeks ago said the process is nearing the end line. “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,” he said.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who has been a key player in the effort, tweeted Friday: “While the deal is not finalized, we are working hard and I’ve never been more confident that we will bring (MLS to Sacramento).”

The league typically announces its expansion decisions during a news conference in the expansion city, offering a few days notice to the public that officials will be in town for a major announcement.

If the deal is finalized, Sacramento would be the 29th team to join the league, following quickly in the footsteps of St. Louis, which was awarded an MLS franchise three weeks ago.

Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle, partner Matt Alvarez, and local businessman Kevin Nagle head an ownership group that is proposing to replace the city’s current lower-tier Republic FC team with a franchise in the fast-growing MLS, which is the top soccer league in the United States.

The new team would also be called Republic FC, and would play in a 20,000-plus seat stadium to be built by team investors in the downtown Sacramento railyard. Republic team officials say they have stadium plans largely finalized, and would be ready to start construction as soon as a deal is done.

The group has a contingency purchase deal in place to buy 31 acres just east of Seventh Street in the railyard for the $250 million stadium. The soccer group also has an agreement from the city on $33 million worth of assistance on permit fees, infrastructure construction and signage rights value.

Sacramento earlier this year appeared to have a lead on St. Louis in the effort to land a franchise. But negotiations here have progressed more slowly than St. Louis’.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber hinted at the sticking point during a press briefing six weeks ago, when he noted that joining MLS has now become a considerable financial undertaking requiring complex decisions.

In addition to stadium costs, land costs and expenses related to the team, MLS recently increased its expansion franchise fee to $200 million, an amount that Garber said is nonnegotiable.

“There are no hiccups,” Garber said in his most recent comments on the Sacramento talks two months ago. “These are lifetime decisions for an investor to make. These are massive commitments. It takes time.”

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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.
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.