Billed as a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic: Ron Burkle is dropping his acquisition of a Sacramento MLS expansion team once slated to launch play in 2022, leaving the city and league working to find a replacement.
Burkle, a California billionaire and a co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, teamed with other investors had been awarded the Sacramento MLS expansion team for the 2022 season, before that date was pushed back to 2023 due to COVID-19 concerns. Burkle was key to landing the expansion team in a bid also backed by a contingent that included entertainment executive and producer Matt Alavarez and local business leader Kevin Nagle, but also key to the bid was a city-backed $300 million soccer-specific stadium anchoring the redevelopment of Sacramento’s downtown Railyards area. As recently as August 2020 Alvarez was speaking of the inevitability of the MLS team and also talking about adding a NWSL team to the mix.
Here’s the statement from MLS:
Earlier today, Ron Burkle informed the League that based on issues with the project related to COVID-19, he has decided to not move forward with the acquisition of an MLS expansion team in Sacramento.
After working for many years to bring an MLS team to Sacramento, the League continues to believe it can be a great MLS market. In the coming days, the League will work with Mayor Darrell Steinberg to evaluate possible next steps for MLS in Sacramento.
“I want to thank Mayor Steinberg for his continued efforts to bring MLS to Sacramento,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “His commitment to the city and delivering for its passionate soccer fans should make all citizens of Sacramento proud.
“Interest in owning a club in Major League Soccer has never been higher. And I remain incredibly optimistic about finalizing expansion plans for our 30th team.”
The deal with Burkle may not been solid from the beginning, however, with Burkle failing to execute a full agreement to invest in MLS and back construction of the new stadium, per the Sacramento Bee:
However, Burkle and league officials failed to agree to a final contract deal, with sticking points including the $300 million cost of the stadium, which was to have been built in the downtown Railyards.
Burkle made a point the day of that announcement in saying he was not pleased with the amount required as an entrance fee into the league, a number that had jumped to $200 million from $150 million by the time Sacramento’s entry bid was accepted. But, he said, he felt he could make the deal work….
Although Burkle signed a preliminary agreement in 2019 with MLS, the two sides never came to an agreement on a formal long-form agreement.
So what comes next? It sounds like MLS and the city would like to continue a Sacramento bid with new owners: city officials see a new stadium as part of downtown Railyards redevelopment, and MLS likes the idea of a Sacramento team. The move will also ignite new talk of future MLS expansion: with COVID-19 rates declining and the economy poised to break out, MLS expansion is certainly a topic that will be front and center–even with Sacramento in the running.
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