The MLS Expansion talks begin! All 12 cities had their bids submitted on January 31, 2017. We are going to take a look at all the expansion cities, their current environment, both soccer and financial, and look at whether or not their bid has what it takes to get into this next round of MLS Expansion. First up is probably the most talked about bid currently, Sacramento.
MLS Expansion Profile: Sacramento
Ownership Group and Stadium Plan
Sacramento’s bid here is easily on the rocks thanks to its whole ownership group presenting the bid. At the last minute, it looks like the ownership group involved has completely left out the original Sacramento Republic from this bid. If so, it’s a significant issue in their bid. But despite that, let’s look at who makes up their group.
Kevin Johnson, former NBA star and much embattled former Mayor of Sacramento is one of the “pretty faces” of the bid. The big financial clout behind it are Kevin Nagle, the CEO of Sac Soccer and Entertainment Holdings, along with the Hewlett Packard CEO, Meg Whitman, and Dr. Griff Harsch, a neurosurgery professor at Stanford University Medical Center. Some of the minority owners would include many local investors who also invest in the Sacramento Kings, as well as Jed York from the San Francisco 49ers.
The stadium plan is already in place, and has already been approved through the Sacramento City Council for construction. That is a big part of their bid, and something that really sets their bid apart from the others.
Current Soccer Environment
The Soccer Environment in California is easily one of the strongest in the country. The Sacramento area produces a lot of talent. The big thing here is whether or not the Republic are going to end up being a part of this bid. If not, then that changes the dynamic.
The fans in Sacramento are not going to stand for the Republic still playing in the USL while Sacramento F.C United. or some other un-original name is playing at the stadium that should have been their home. That aside, the Republic brand in Sacramento is huge. In only four years of existence the team continually packs Bonney Field, 10k a game for the USL. In perspective, the USL’s average league attendance is 3k. The environment has been placed on the rocks though with this bid confusion.
Sacramento Republic’s imprint on the city, and in the local soccer scene will be even more significant than it already is if they end up landing the bid.
Other Contributing Factors
The other factors here we need to look at here are TV market size, and whether or not there are significant enough local companies to provide good, corporate sponsorship. Sacramento’s TV Market is the 20th largest in the country according to the 2016-17 Nielsen Rankings. There are currently three teams already in MLS with a lower TV market size (Columbus, Kansas City, and Salt Lake City). The only TV Market of the teams who applied for expansion that have a larger market would be Tampa, Detroit, and Phoenix.
The Sacramento area is home to absolutely zero Fortune 500 companies. That does not mean, however, that they can’t poach some from the Bay Area. A significant local sponsor is the UC Davis Medical Center, and that can continue to be a fruitful relationship. UC Davis Med is the current jersey sponsor for the Republic. With many local investors they shouldn’t have too much problem scrounging up some local sponsorships. However, the San Jose Earthquakes haven’t taken advantage of many of the significant sponsorships available in that market, so it’s not like an MLS team already has all of them.
Their chances have taken a significant hit with this ownership fiasco. If all goes well, and they move along together, the Sac Soccer and Entertainment Holdings AND Sacramento Republic FC, then they’re probably a shoe-in to get in. I think that if their bid can’t get their act together, Don Garber will be more than willing to pass them by. Why? He’s strung along Miami as a potential expansion bid since before the Republic existed. That in itself is enough to think he’d pass over Sacramento in a heartbeat if he felt the bid wasn’t unified.
On a personal note, being from the Sacramento market myself, the city really does deserve a second professional franchise. They have always supported the Kings or River Cats (AAA Baseball) win or lose. The fact that a disagreement between a few millionaires might cost a fantastic, devoted fan-base a team. They deserve their team. So, #NoRepublicNoParty.