Sacramento Republic FC is finally moving up to Major League Soccer. After years of being jilted in MLS’ expansion race, Sacramento will become the league’s 29th franchise. The Republic will begin MLS play in 2022.
MLS commissioner Don Garber, Republic lead investor Ron Burkle and a host of other league, team and city officials announced the news at a block party in Sacramento Monday afternoon.
“Sacramento’s selection by Major League Soccer for an expansion team is a victory to be celebrated by everyone in our community,” Burkle said in a prepared statement. “This has been a true team effort between the amazing soccer fans of the Sacramento region along with Mayor [Darrell] Steinberg and City Council, our partners and corporate leaders. We are proud to be part of the team that Kevin Nagle put together, which is made even stronger by an incredibly committed local ownership group.
“The relationship between Sacramento and our club already is a special one, and I’m committed to deepening that connection for years to come.”
The Republic launched in USL Pro — now USL League One — in 2014 and immediately began their push for MLS. Sacramento appeared to be on the cusp in 2016 when Garber visited the city and told locals it would be “an expansion market very, very soon.” Since then, previously announced Atlanta United, Minnesota United and Los Angeles FC have debuted in MLS. Miami; Nashville, Tenn.; Austin, Texas; and St. Louis, have been announced as future expansion cities.
Sacramento’s bid long ticked off two key boxes: impressive fan support and plans for a downtown, soccer-specific stadium that the city revealed in 2017. But it lacked a wealthy investor in the ownership group, which proved to be a hindrance. The Republic solved that problem in January when they announced Burkle as a new co-owner. The billionaire financier also owns the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
Ownership will buy in to MLS with a $200 million franchise fee.
“It’s game-changing to bring Ron Burkle on board,” Republic chairman Kevin Nagle told The Sacramento Bee in January. “You’re talking about a first-class businessman and sports owner. I think the rest of the country is going to be really impressed by who we brought in as lead investor.”
The Republic will play their home games at a stadium to be built in Downtown Sacramento’s railyard district. The venue is expected to cost $300 million and will seat 20,100. It will be the “centerpiece of a redevelopment project that will include housing, retail, theaters, parks, museums, a hotel and a major medical center,” according to a press release.
“Major League Soccer continues to grow throughout North America and we are so proud to welcome Sacramento as our newest team,” Garber said. “For many years, soccer fans in Sacramento have passionately supported Republic FC and shown that the club deserves to be competing at the highest level.
“Thanks to the determined efforts and commitment of new owners Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez along with the leadership of Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Sacramento will join MLS with a world-class soccer stadium that will transform the sport in California’s capital.”
Twenty-four MLS teams took the field in 2019. Nashville SC and Inter Miami, David Beckham’s franchise that was officially announced in 2018, are scheduled to begin play in 2020. Austin FC will launch in 2021, and the as-yet-unnamed St. Louis franchise will debut with Sacramento in 2022.
Garber originally set an expansion cap of 24 teams and, with a number of viable bids in the running, bumped that number up to 28 in 2017. The commissioner announced in April MLS plans to expand to 30 teams “in the coming years.” Las Vegas, Detroit and two markets in North Carolina — Charlotte and Raleigh — are among several cities competing for the league’s 30th slot.