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MLS to Sacramento: We like you but not enough to let you join the league … yet

August 15, 2019 - 4:56 pm
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By Charlie O @Charlieo1320

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There had been much anticipation in the Capital City that they would be the 28th franchise in Major League Soccer. After all, the organizing group has literally met every condition that MLS has placed on them and the City of Sacramento to place a team in this soccer supportive region.

MLS told the owner’s group – that originally was the owners of the Sac Republic – that they needed a “billionaire” to get involved to insure the financial stability of venture. The group was able to entice Ron Burkle – who was an early suitor for the Kings – to get involved in the Sacramento ownership group. Burkle is a part owner of the Pittsburg Penguins of the NHL, he his heavily invested in media and technology. This is exactly the kind of owner the league should be looking for in its ranks – aggressive, loves sports and really has money in the bank.

The City of Sacramento has been an aggressive partner

The Mayor of Sacramento – Darrell Steinberg – has been as supportive as any city executive could be in leading the charge to bring the MLS to his town. The city has the old “Southern Pacific Railyards” that is ready for development, and they want the soccer stadium to be the anchor feature of the Railyards development.

The area is going to feature housing, office buildings, retail and restaurants. The area is serviced by light rail and Amtrak. It has great freeway access and is just minutes from the downtown core. It literally meets every criterion that MLS has been setting up as requirements for franchise to be awarded to a city.

Local fans have been over the top in supporting the USL

Sacramento soccer fans have been “cuckoo for cocoa puffs” over minor league soccer since 2012. The Sacramento Republic of the USL Championship Division (the equivalent of Triple-A baseball) enjoys consistent attendance and community buzz about their play. Their fans just do not turn out to their games – they also turn out to the rallies in support up upgrading the team to the MLS.

“The Tower Bridge Battalion” – the team’s most rabid support group – never stops in its efforts to attract the MLS to Sacramento.

MLS raises the franchise fees

Major League Soccer is not making a making a big profit. In fact, they may not really be making any profit at all. Their television and cable contracts pay mini-money compared to other professional sports. MLS is not even close to the NHL.

A large percentage of the franchise fees are returned to the owners of the existing teams which helps them recoup their investments and losses. That fee has jumped from $150 million to $200 million while Sacramento has been trying to secure a franchise.

Meet me in St. Louis

According to multiple sources, the MLS will award the 28th franchise to St. Louis on Tuesday. Members of the family that own and control the Enterprise rental car corporation are the main investors in the owners group.

The group will build a privately funded soccer-only stadium in downtown St. Louis next to Union Station which has become a real focus of the city center. The team would begin play in 2022.

Remember, this is the same St. Louis that has lost two NFL teams (Rams and Cardinals), one NBA team (Hawks), one ABA team (Spirits), one MLB team (Browns now the Orioles), and one North American Soccer League Team (Stars who moved to Anaheim to become the California Surf).

One of the deciding factors supposedly was the fact that St. Louis has long been considered one of “the spiritual homes of American soccer”. Frankly, it sounds like the promise of a heavy television ad buy from Enterprise Rental Cars might have been “the spiritual” leading.

A Sacramento franchise is not dead yet

Sacramento could still be in contention for the 29th or 30th teams that MLS are planning to field in the future. Based on the past timing, the final two teams would probably start play in 2024.

The problem for Sacramento will be keeping its investor group together. A man like Burkle is a “man of action”. He is not going to sit around and wait forever while MLS plays its “head games”. A franchise in another sport or an Esport franchise or league could become available, and it’s see you later Ron.

The other problem could come if Sacramento is awarded franchise number 30. The fee for that franchise has not yet been set and the projection is for $300 million. That price could send investors to the sidelines.

The other option is for the group to become the Sacramento “Vultures”. The Columbus Crew franchise was headed to Austin, Texas before the owners of the Cleveland Browns stepped in and saved them. There has to be at least two of the current 24 franchises that are in financial trouble. Maybe the answer for Sacramento is to swoop in and bring an existing team to the City of Trees and forget bidding for an expansion franchise.

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