Sacramento investor pulls out threatening future of MLS’s fledgling franchise

March 2 – Ron Burkle has pulled out as owner of Sacramento, citing the impact of the coronavirus to leave the future of the franchise that was scheduled to begin play in the Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2023 in doubt.

Burkle, the lead investor of the proposed team, informed MLS officials that he has “decided not to move forward with the acquisition of an MLS expansion team” in the city.

“After working for many years to bring an MLS team to Sacramento, the League continues to believe it can be a great MLS market,” wrote the MLS in a statement. “In the coming days, the League will work with Mayor Darrell Steinberg to evaluate possible next steps for MLS in Sacramento.”

Burkle, co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the National Hockey League, reportedly decided not to move forward because of sky-rocketing costs associated to the building of the Sacramento stadium, planned for the Downtown Railyards site.

Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg said in a statement: “I am very disappointed in Mr. Burkle’s decision to step out of his October 2019 public commitment to our city. Despite the difficult past year for our city, we have upheld every commitment to Mr. Burkle, the league, and our community. We took major steps to welcome Major League Soccer to a new stadium in The Railyards, and we remain prepared to move forward immediately.”

In 2019, the MLS unveiled Sacremento with much pomp and circumstance, but Burkle and his co-investor Matt Alvarez faced an uphill struggle from the onset, needing to invest  $200 million for the expansion fee and take into account construction costs of the stadium. They also needed to acquire a stake in USL Championship side Sacramento Republic from owner Kevin Nagle.

Burkle withdrawing from Sacramento’s ownership structure represents an existential blow to the future of the franchise.

Mayor Steinberg said: “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.”

“Interest in owning a club in Major League Soccer has never been higher,” added MLS commissioner Don Garber. “And I remain incredibly optimistic about finalizing expansion plans for our 30th team.”

Contact the writer if this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1618619400labto1618619400ofdlr1618619400owedi1618619400sni@o1618619400fni1618619400