MLS Commissioner Don Garber is heading to Sacramento in April to discuss the California capital’s chances of getting an MLS expansion franchise.
The league and club announced the trip on Thursday, as Sacramento Republic FC will host Garber and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott on Apr. 14 to discuss their plans to enter MLS.
Republic’s managing partner, Kevin Nagle, will tour the MLS executives around the proposed new MLS stadium for Sacramento incorporated in the Railyards district.
Back in December Garber announced plans to expand MLS to 28 teams and with 20 teams currently in the league, plus Atlanta United, Minnesota, LAFC and Miami set to arrive in the coming years, that only leaves four spots open.
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Sacramento Republic have been a roaring success throughout their first two years as a club in the USL Pro. They have set USL attendance records in each campaign after averaging crowds of 11,293 in the 2014 regular season and then in 2015 broke that record with an average of 11,329 at Booney Field.
Adding to that thriving fanbase is the fact that Mayor Kevin Johnson fully supports the club and the Sacramento City Council has already approved the $224 million plans to build a 25,000 capacity MLS stadium if they get the green light from Garber and Co.
Over the past two years Sacramento has added a huge number of investors as part owners in the club, with Sacramento Professional Soccer, LLC owning the club and fronted by Warren Smith. Investors include owners of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and their model of including a large pool of owners is hugely similar to the approach taken by new MLS club Los Angeles FC who will join the league in 2018.
So, how do we rate Sacramento’s chances? They seem pretty good.
The fact that Garber is going their to visit is a really good sign and unlike other potential expansion cities like San Antonio, St. Louis and Las Vegas, the City of Sacramento has already signed off a new soccer-specific stadium to host Sacramento Republic. That has always been a deal-breaker for MLS, having a stadium ready to roll, but even in recent years we’ve seen in Vancouver, Montreal, Orlando and New York City FC they are willing to allow teams to enter the league before their new soccer-specific venue is ready. Sacramento say the stadium could be ready for the 2018 MLS season.
Sacramento’s fanbase seems reminiscent of Orlando City’s in the USL and it would be beneficial to add another California team to compete with the San Jose Earthquakes and both the LA Galaxy and LAFC. With Miami (David Beckham is getting there, slowly) and Atlanta arriving in the Eastern Conference soon, MLS needs to even things up so searching for new clubs out west now seems to be a priority for Garber. Sacramento, at least right now, ticks all the right boxes.
Now, the all-important expansion fee will need to be negotiated and knowing how much Sacramento wants into MLS, Garber is likely to ask in excess of the $100 million. It is reported that LAFC paid $110 million to get into MLS, which is the highest expansion fee in history.