The Sacramento Kings organization will become a minority investor in Sacramento Republic FC, the wildly successful minor league soccer team looking to join the ranks of Major League Soccer.
The announcement late Wednesday caps weeks of negotiations between the Kings and the Republic – talks brokered by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. He and other Republic boosters say having the full weight of the Kings behind the Republic will help push Sacramento’s MLS bid over the top.
Since MLS officials visited Sacramento last September, the capital city has been pressing its case to join America’s premier soccer league. MLS plans to add two franchises by 2020 and has already promised one of those spots to Miami.
Minneapolis is also thought to be a strong contender, and that bid could include the owner of the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL. But Miami’s bid stalled for lack of a viable stadium plan, and now the Republic can demonstrate to the MLS that it is financially backed by Sacramento’s only major league sports franchise.
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“All of us are building Sacramento into a city that will set the example for the way sports and culture interact with American cities in the future,” Johnson said in a prepared statement.
The Kings first looked at investing in the team in August, when Kings President Chris Granger accompanied Johnson and Republic FC executives to the MLS All-Star Game in Portland.
But a few weeks later, it was Kings minority owner Kevin Nagle, a pharmaceutical executive from El Dorado Hills, who emerged as the lead financial backer of the effort to turn Republic FC into an MLS franchise.
Eleven other Kings co-owners soon followed, including Larry Kelley, who is buying the downtown railyard property where the Republic plans to build a stadium if it is chosen by the MLS.
In the ensuing months, Johnson continued talking to Vivek Ranadive, the Kings managing general partner. Ranadive is known to be a soccer fan and is a personal friend of Sunil Gulati, president of the United States Soccer Federation.
Johnson’s message to the Kings was simple: A unified bid that included the Kings would give Sacramento its best chance of joining MLS. It would also create synergy in marketing, ticket pricing, merchandising and other shared business ventures between the teams.
The question always was: How would a Republic ownership group be structured, and who would be in charge? That was settled Wednesday when the Kings agreed to join as minority investors, with Nagle remaining as managing general partner.
“We shared early on our desire to have the Sacramento Kings a part of our efforts to secure MLS for Sacramento,” Nagle said Wednesday.
The announcement that the Kings were joining the Republic was a respite of positive news in what has been a tough stretch for the new Kings owners. In December, Kings fans were angered when coach Michael Malone was fired. The team has since struggled on the court.
MLS officials have indicated they will make a decision on Sacramento’s bid – and other bids – by June. In the meantime, Nagle has pledged that the Republic will devise a plan to build a privately financed stadium.
Kelley expects to close escrow on the railyard within months and is bullish on the idea of a soccer stadium as an anchor for development on the property thought to be the largest infill project in the United States.
Having just been a guest of President Barack Obama during his recent state visit to India, Ranadive spoke glowingly of the opportunity to invest in the Republic.
“This is another major step in revitalizing downtown and making the entire Sacramento region an even better place to work, live and play,” Ranadive said in a prepared statement. “We’re committed to our vision of making Sacramento the world-class city its citizens deserve.”x
Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.