It all was going so well. The Sacramento Republic FC soccer club began life in 2012. They won a USL championship two years later. Raucous fans impressively filled the temporary stadium set on the Cal Expo grounds. Fan support combined with the grassroots community feel to present the club as a frontrunner for a future MLS expansion franchise. Everything was going as planned. This month was the champagne was meant to flow. They even had a private financing plan for the stadium, then broke ground over the summer.
Then Wednesday, MLS announced that a late, money-heavy bid from Nashville won an expansion franchise, the 24th out of a planned 28 total teams in the coming years.
The next day, backers of the Republic FC bid announced that they’re looking for both a majority investor and multiple minority investors. HP Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman backed out. The York family (49ers) is involved, though they appear to be at best limited partners.
When asked why the bidding group was short on funds, CEO Kevin Nagle admitted that they were all pledged to cover the stadium financing. That’s fine, but the expansion fee rose in the last few years to $150 million. Meanwhile, the stadium cost has risen from $170 million to $250 million.
My back-of-the-napkin guess is that the club needs an infusion of $100+ million to be approved. The additional partner(s) would probably also need to have their checkbook(s) handy in case the franchise needed to cover cash calls for construction, initial payroll, and operating expenses. Keep in mind that we’re talking about $400 million to get started. By comparison, the LA Galaxy’s valuation this year was $315 million.
Just as with the Kings, Republic FC is reaching out to the millionaires and billionaires in the Bay Area. The difference between those efforts are fundamental: former NBA commissioner David Stern brought the tech money to the table, while stalling the Maloof brothers from selling the team to Seattle interests. In this case, MLS can provide some time, but Don Garber is no David Stern, and it would be inappropriate to have MLS involved any further while competing bids in Cincinnati and Detroit await their own appraisals.
While I considered the Sacramento MLS bid to be practically a done deal, I’ll have to watch it more closely now. By the way the team and city reacted to recent news, I’m nearly as floored as I was by the A’s-Peralta news. That’s not very hopeful, in case you were wondering.