Soccer

Sacramento Republic execs, mayor to meet in New York with top Major League Soccer officials

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, left, Republic FC head coach Preki and team members rally in support of the Sacramento Republic FC soccer team in Sacramento on Oct. 3. The Republic FC celebrated their 2014 USL Pro championship.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, left, Republic FC head coach Preki and team members rally in support of the Sacramento Republic FC soccer team in Sacramento on Oct. 3. The Republic FC celebrated their 2014 USL Pro championship. rbenton@sacbee.com

Continuing to press their case for a Major League Soccer franchise, top executives of Sacramento Republic FC and Mayor Kevin Johnson will make a presentation to league officials Tuesday in New York.

Johnson, Republic FC founder Warren Smith and investors Kevin Nagle and Larry Kelley will meet with MLS Commissioner Don Garber and others at the league’s headquarters, it was announced Saturday. Also joining the group will be stadium finance consultant Dan Barrett and Benny Aziz, a spokesman for the mayor’s Think Big Sacramento task force.

The meeting will mark the first extended contact between the Sacramento group and MLS leaders since Republic FC hosted Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott and others for a two-day visit in mid-September. Abbott pronounced himself “incredibly impressed” after his visit, which included an enormous pep rally in midtown in advance of a Republic FC playoff game.

A major reason for the New York trip is to make a presentation to Garber, who wasn’t able to make the Sacramento trip. “We want to communicate directly with him,” Smith said Saturday.

Smith said the group plans to update MLS leaders on planning for the proposed stadium at the downtown railyard, and identify new owners who plan to invest in Republic FC.

“Every meeting, frankly, is important,” Nagle said. “We’re doing all the right things to make them comfortable” with putting a team in Sacramento.

Smith said he hopes to come out of the meeting with a better understanding of “where we sit” compared to other cities vying for a team.

Following Republic FC’s hugely successful debut season in the minor-league USL Pro circuit, Sacramento is believed to be in a dogfight with Minneapolis for the 24th and final MLS slot.

While Republic FC officials have been talking for some time about a New York trip, the announcement came one day after Garber suggested to the Chicago Tribune that Minneapolis could fill a geographical void for MLS. “The Midwest is a priority,” he said. “Minneapolis is a big priority for us.”

A few days after the MLS contingent left Sacramento, Garber and Abbott spent two days in Minneapolis, according to a report by Sports Illustrated’s website. In contrast to the high-profile Sacramento tour, the Minneapolis visit was so low-key that it went unreported in the media for two weeks. Other cities are bidding for the last spot as well, including Las Vegas and San Antonio.

MLS owners are expected to make a decision on expansion in early December.

This week’s visit to New York will focus to a large degree on Republic FC’s plans to build a privately financed soccer stadium at the northern edge of the downtown railyard.

Johnson and the others are heading East “at the request of the MLS to provide an update on Sacramento’s progress, including information on the ownership group, the level of community support and the facility planning,” said Johnson’s spokesman Ben Sosenko.

It’s believed it would cost at least $120 million to build a stadium to MLS specifications. That’s on top of the estimated $80 million expansion fee. Kelley, one of Republic FC’s recent investors, is purchasing the 240-acre railyard from an Illinois real estate investment firm.

As they work on stadium plans, Nagle and Smith have also been beefing up their roster of investors. Several new partners have come aboard in recent weeks, including several of Nagle and Kelley’s fellow Kings minority owners. Also on board is Urijah Faber, the mixed martial arts fighter from Sacramento.

Smith said Garber will be briefed on several additional owners whose names haven’t been disclosed yet.

He added that Republic FC now expects to add roughly 3,000 seats to its temporary home, Bonney Field, in time for next year. That would bring total capacity to 11,000. However, the team will ask officials at Cal Expo for permission to add as many as 6,000 new seats, for a total of 14,000.

The team sold out its home games in its inaugural season.

Smith said 70 percent of season ticket holders have renewed for next year, and the team has taken deposits for 1,442 new season tickets. That brings the total season ticket base to more than 5,400.

Minneapolis’ effort is complicated by the presence of two competing bids. The owner of the Minnesota Vikings is proposing to house an MLS team at a new domed stadium the football team is building in downtown Minneapolis. A second group is led by the owner of Minnesota United FC, which plays in the minor league North American Soccer League. Minnesota United would reportedly team up with the owners of the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves and major-league baseball Twins.

Garber and Abbott visited with both camps during their tour of Minneapolis, according to Sports Illustrated.

Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

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