Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber presents an MLS Sacramento scarf to Republic FC majority team owner Ron Burkle during the news conference Oct. 21 at The Bank in downtown Sacramento. On stage are, from left, team owners Kevin Nagle and Matt Alvarez, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, and California Governor Gavin Newsom. (Photo by Tom Couzens)

Major League Soccer Comes to Sacramento

Republic FC will begin playing in MLS in 2022 in a new stadium in The Railyards

Back Web Only Oct 21, 2019 By Graham Womack

After all was said and done, after he’d remained silent through a packed news conference announcing that Sacramento would be receiving a Major League Soccer franchise, Ron Burkle stood on J Street outside awaiting an SUV.

Burkle, the reclusive 66-year-old billionaire and Sacramento Republic FC majority team owner  and principal investor who rarely talks to the media, was the only one of six seated on stage —  including MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and California Governor Gavin Newsom — who did not speak during the 50-minute news conference Oct. 21.

The silence — he gave a thumbs-up after Garber put a soccer sash on him — came despite Burkle’s major role in helping his group come up with the estimated $250 million to $300 million cost for a new stadium in the Railyards that is expected to open for 2022 MLS season, as well as a $200 million expansion fee to MLS.

For Burkle, the investment is well worth it.

“Over the long-term, I think soccer’s going to be one of the most exciting sports,” Burkle told Comstock’s as he waited for the SUV. “When you look at what a football team costs today, what a baseball team costs, what a basketball team, anything, soccer’s the No. 1 sport in the world. And ultimately the value should be there.”

Burkle’s commitment and the franchise award capped a seven-year effort to bring an MLS franchise to Sacramento. Hopes soared after MLS announced plans in the spring to expand from 27 to 30 teams and opened exclusive negotiations with St. Louis and Sacramento.

“From the bottom of my city’s heart, thank you for believing in us,” Steinberg said from the podium while turning in Garber’s direction.

Garber praised Burkle, Burkle’s investing partner Matt Alvarez and Kevin Nagle, chairman and CEO of Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings and a minority team investor.

“In Ron Burkle, in Matt Alvarez, and with Kevin, you now have a terrific ownership group for Republic FC,” Garber told the crowd. “That’s the missing link that we’ve all been waiting for.”

(Photo by Tom Couzens)

A who’s-who of local luminaries attended the news conference, including Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac. “It’s going to be great,” Divac told Comstock’s. “We obviously, we have the Kings now. We’re going to have a Republic (presence) right there across (from) us. It’s going to change the entire city landscape, and I’m so excited about it.”

Team cofounder Warren Smith, who departed Republic FC in 2017 shortly after Nagle purchased controlling interest, was happy as well. “For me and for the original team, this was always about Sacramento,” Smith said.

Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, said the region should capitalize on having an MLS franchise. “It’ll be hundreds of millions of dollars of income, tens of millions of dollars of impressions to the media,” Broome said.

Longtime Sacramento Kings play-by-play radio announcer Gary Gerould told Comstock’s that Sacramento is ready for MLS. “I think that they’ve more than paid their dues,” Gerould said. “I was among those who was wondering is MLS kind of stringing people along here? And you see the rights fees continue to go up and you’re thinking, ‘Are they going to get priced out of this competition or what’s liable to happen?’ I mean, I was concerned. But the people that were in the know kept saying, ‘Be patient, it’s going to happen.’ We just didn’t know when. And now, we’ve finally come to that time.”

The next steps for Republic FC will involve a reasonably aggressive construction schedule. Team president Ben Gumpert told Comstock’s this summer that it is expected to take 20-21 months to build the stadium on 14 acres on the east side of The Railyards, helping anchor the largest infill development project west of the Mississippi River.

Asked what the day meant to him, Burkle said, “Today was a blast. But there’s a lot of work to do.” Burkle’s words were a common refrain Monday morning among those close to the project. 

Gerardo Prado, a principal for Kansas City-based HNTB, which is designing the 20,000-plus seat stadium, told Comstock’s by phone that his firm would be “ready to hit the ground running pretty soon to finalize the design.”

Marco Gonzalez, a project manager for the City of Sacramento, told Comstock’s the city will soon create an enhanced infrastructure financing district. “It’s basically allowing the city to capture the increase in value on the land,” Gonzalez said.

Sacramento City Councilman Jeff Harris, whose district includes The Railyards, told Comstock’s before the news conference that a committee he chairs had already taken one action on creating the EIFD and that it will be taking another action in November. “The actual construction will start next year, as soon as the weather breaks after winter,” Harris said. “We may do a little bit of work this year, depending on the weather for underground infrastructure.”

Asked how confident he was to invest in Sacramento, Burkle said, “Obviously enough to be here.” Then he got into his waiting SUV.

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