For all the momentum behind Sacramento’s suddenly promising bid for a Major League Soccer franchise, the city is facing a now-or-never proposition as it competes for one of the league’s two available expansion slots, the leader of the bid said Friday.
Warren Smith, president of upstart minor-league franchise Sacramento Republic FC, said the city could find itself on the outside looking in if it doesn’t land a spot in MLS during the league’s upcoming round of expansion. The reason: MLS has said it’s likely to add two more teams, for a total of 24, but doesn’t expect to grow beyond that for at least several more years.
“It’s now, frankly, in my perspective, or never,” Smith told members of the Sacramento Press Club. “It’s my concern if we don’t get a franchise now, we’ll never get one.”
With strong home attendance and a pending financial partnership with the Sacramento Kings, the first-year Republic FC has quickly become a strong contender for an MLS spot. Accompanied by Kings President Chris Granger and Mayor Kevin Johnson, Smith made a presentation to MLS executives at the league’s All-Star game in Portland two weeks ago, and MLS officials plan to visit Sacramento in September.
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Smith warned, however, that the competition is fierce and getting fiercer. Miami has been awarded one of the two spots, contingent on its ability to build a new stadium. While Miami’s stadium effort has stalled so far, Minneapolis and Las Vegas are considered serious contenders. Smith said he’s heard investors are trying to mount a bid in San Diego and other cities could be in the mix.
“We know about Indianapolis, San Antonio, St. Louis,” he said. “Louisville’s now talking as well.” The league could make a decision in December.
Sports business analysts have said MLS, despite the sport’s growing popularity, is wary of over-expanding.
Smith said he’s “very confident” that Republic FC can execute a partnership agreement with the Sacramento Kings and Kings co-owner Kevin Nagle to help bankroll the MLS bid. He also said he believes Republic FC can show MLS officials a privately financed stadium plan when they visit Sacramento in September.
Despite the mayor’s support for the MLS bid, Johnson and other officials have said they doubt the city can help pay for the new stadium, expected to cost $100 million to $125 million.
Spots in and around the downtown railyard have emerged as likely stadium locations, but Smith said other sites are under consideration, including the Docks area southwest of downtown, the Richards Boulevard area and the Bridge District near Raley Field in West Sacramento.