MLS says NHL team owner out on acquiring Sacramento expansion club
Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle had planned $300M US soccer-specific stadium
Major League Soccer says Ron Burkle has backed out of plans for an expansion team in Sacramento, Calif., that was scheduled to start play in 2023.
The league said in a statement Friday night that Burkle's decision was "based on issues with the project related to COVID-19."
MLS announced Sacramento Republic as its 29th team on Oct. 21, 2019 and said then the team would start play in 2022. MLS said July 17 that Sacramento would not start play until the 2023 season because of the pandemic. At the time, the league delayed Charlotte, N.C., until 2022 and St. Louis until 2023.
MLS expanded to 26 teams last year with the addition of Miami and Nashville, Tennessee. Austin, Texas joins this season, which is scheduled to start April 17.
Sacramento's announced ownership group included Burkle, founder of The Yucaipa Cos., co-owner of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, as lead investor. He was joined by entertainment executive Matt Alvarez and Kevin Nagle, an investor in the NBA's Sacramento Kings who had spearheaded the bid for MLS expansion since 2014.
But the group had run into cost issues with the proposed stadium site and had yet to break ground on the proposed 21,000-seat stadium. There also was growing concern the team would not be able to start until 2024.
The current Sacramento Republic, founded in December 2012, plays in the second-tier United Soccer League Championship.
Garber optimistic about securing 30th team
"We understand the feelings of anger, disappointment and frustration — we share in those deeply. Today's announcement is not a reflection of the fans, Sacramento or this club," the team said in a statement. "There is much more information to come about how we will continue our MLS journey."
MLS commissioner Don Garber said he remains optimistic about finalizing plans for the league's 30th team.
Steinberg said he was disappointed in Burkle backing out of the project and he looked forward in working with the league to find a new lead investor for the franchise.
"Despite the difficult past year for our city, we have upheld every commitment to Mr. Burkle, the league and our community," Steinberg said in a statement. "We took major steps to welcome Major League Soccer to a new stadium in The Railyards and we remain prepared to move forward immediately."
MLS's 2020 season started Feb. 29 but was interrupted after March 8 by the pandemic. The season resumed July 8 and each team played 23 regular-season games, down from 34 originally scheduled.
As a fallout from pandemic restrictions, attendance dropped from nearly 9 million to about 750,000.