Sacramento Republic acquire new lead investor for MLS expansion push

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Sacramento Republic FC took a giant step forward on Tuesday in its pursuit of a Major League Soccer expansion slot.

The club announced in a statement that it had secured the financial investment of billionaire Ron Burkle, an American venture capitalist who also is a part-owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. According to Sacramento Republic chairman and CEO Kevin Nagle, Burkle becomes the team’s new lead investor after a long search.

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“For more than a year, we have worked tirelessly alongside Mayor (Darrell) Steinberg to identify a new lead investor that further strengthens our bid to bring Major League Soccer to Sacramento,” Nagle said. “While we held discussions with several potential investors, our focus was, and remains, on finding the right lead investor whose vision for our club and our city best aligns with ours.

“Mr. Burkle is an exceptional leader and businessman, a champion sports owner, a dedicated philanthropist, and someone with a deep appreciation for Sacramento. He is the ideal person to lead the next chapter of our club.”

Founder of the Yucaipa Companies, a venture-capitalist firm, Burkle is reported by Forbes Magazine to hold a net worth of $2 billion, immediately making him one of the richest owners in the American soccer landscape. And according to multiple reports out of Sacramento, the backing of a billionaire was the biggest roadblock between Sacramento joining MLS.

The Sacramento Bee provided some additional notes from the announcement. It’s expected that Burkle will purchase not only the team but also the stadium, which is expected to be privately funded and cost around $250 million. Including a potential future MLS expansion fee of $150 million or more, Burkle could be playing close to half a billion dollars as part of this deal, no small chump change.¬†Nagle meanwhile is expected to stay on as a senior executive.

Since bringing in huge crowds of 10,000 or more fans for their 2014 run to the USL Cup title (which was a lot back in those days), Sacramento seemed to be on the edge of MLS expansion. But since that run, due to missing out on key financial invesments from deep-pocketed owners, Sacramento has been passed by and forced to stay in USL.

Atlanta United, Minnesota United, and Los Angeles FC have all started play in MLS, with FC Cincinnati joining this season. Nashville SC, Inter Miami and Austin FC have all clinched places to start in MLS within the next three years. Meanwhile other cities like Detroit, San Diego and St. Louis are battling with Sacramento for the 28th and (for now) final place in MLS’ expansion journey.