Sacramento MLS expansion franchise in doubt

The economic impact of the coronavirus has ripped apart plans that had once seemed a sure bet for the league

Sacramento FC’s lead investor Ron Burkle has pulled out of plans to acquire an MLS franchise due to the coronavirus pandemic, thrusting the league’s Northern California expansion agenda into doubt.

MLS said Friday night that it would continue to evaluate its options in the fertile market. Sacramento had originally been slated to start play in 2022 after being awarded a place in the U.S. top-flight, a date that was pushed back earlier in the Covid-19 crisis.

The Sacramento Bee reported that “although Burkle signed a preliminary agreement in 2019 with MLS, the two sides never came to a formal long-form agreement.”

What did MLS announce about Sacramento FC?

“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,” MLS wrote in a statement on its website.

“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.”

MLS commissioner Don Garber extended an additional note to the franchise.

“I want to thank [Sacramento mayor Darrell] Steinberg for his continued efforts to bring MLS to Sacramento,” Garber said. “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.”

What comes next for the city?

The city of Sacramento needs new investment sources to salvage its hopes of hosting an MLS side, but the financial challenges of the pandemic might deter a cash influx.

A “very disappointed” Steinberg, the mayor of California’s capital, blasted Burkle as disloyal to the community but maintained hope of a positive outcome.

“We will still bring MLS to Sacramento, and we will work with the league to find a new lead investor,” Steinberg told The Bee. “We are not starting from scratch by any means. We have an approved stadium plan and an approved plan to build and pay for infrastructure. We also have the best fan base in the country – one that has shown time and time again that it can support an MLS team.

“We have only begun to fight for what our city deserves.”

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