After celebrating their expansion to MLS, Sacramento Republic FC mysteriously disappeared, but wasn’t eliminated. They became a zombie MLS franchise.
Not long ago, Sacramento Republic FC supporters and investors celebrated the success of their five-year MLS expansion effort. On October 21, 2019, ownership and city dignitaries planned to announce they would join the league.
They had checked all the boxes and jumped through all the hoops. They had a star investor in Ron Burkle, a business owner, philanthropist, NHL co-owner, and activist. And they had plans for a big soccer-specific stadium to revitalize an historic area downtown.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber made the Sacramento expansion announcement. But trouble was brewing, mainly from the COVID-19 shutdowns. MLS delayed Sacramento’s entry until 2023. In late Feb. 2021, Burkle pulled out of the deal.
With plenty of cities lined up to expand to MLS at any price, logic says that the Sacramento expansion effort should be dead. But Sacramento Mayer Darrell Steinberg immediately jumped up on the podium vacated by Burkle, and Garber listened.
The commissioner assured all that the league had room for a 30th team and didn’t stop answering the phone when Steinberg called. The skies above Sacxramento’s MLS expansion bid certainly look threatening. But the bid was never finished. It’s officially on indefinite hold – neither dead nor alive – or, sort of a zombie.
If you’ve repaired an automobile lately or gone to buy something from the grocery store, you know prices have increased dramatically since 2019. The same is true for prices to build a soccer-specific stadium. And the fee from MLS to get a franchise for your expansion team went up, too.
But the escalating prices have not stopped another investor group from jumping in and testing Sacramento’s MLS expansion waters.
Mayor Steinberg, still the city’s most prominent soccer supporter, said the Ontario-based Stronach Group has been talking with Sacramento leaders for over a year about re-opening the door to get the Republic into MLS.
The Stronach Group knows U.S. sporting tastes very well through owning and running major horse tracks, including Santa Anita.
The group also knows U.S. sporting economics, as it plans to close its Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco at the end of the 2023 season.
This owner and the Sacramento Republic look great together. And while the team fell into zombie status once the previous owner bolted, the squad never gave up on competition. That doesn’t just apply to their expansion effort, but their daily competition, as well.
Republic fought their way to the U.S. Open finals last year. And this year in USL standings they’ve earned the top spot in the Western Conference.
It’s been a long time since Sacramento Republic FC stood up to open the door to MLS expansion. This time, with a strong ownership group and a partnership with their home city’s leaders, they’re going to fight for expansion again.
They’ll win this fight, too.