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Economists: Downtown Sacramento Kings Arena Could Pave Way For MLS Franchise

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Economic experts say the new downtown arena for the Sacramento Kings could also pave the way for a new soccer stadium to house a Major League Soccer team.

A group from Sacramento made its pitch to MLS officials on Thursday in New York City. They are competing against two rival bids from Minneapolis and one from Las Vegas as the MLS looks to expand to 24 teams by 2020.

Chivas USA in Southern California recently was shut down by the league, with new ownership taking over and a new Los Angeles team to start playing in 2017. Teams in Orlando and New York City will join next year, bringing the total to 20.

By the time Chivas rejoins the league in 2017, teams in Atlanta and Miami are expected to leave only one open space for a team, pending a finalized stadium plan for the latter.

MLS isn't saying when they'll have a final vote on which city to award an expansion franchise. The committee will recommend its preferred city to the league's full board of governors, who will discuss it on Dec. 6.

The league will deliver the news with a press conference in the city that is selected. League officials have previously stated a decision isn't likely until 2015.

A key cornerstone to the plan to bring an MLS team to Sacramento may already be under construction in downtown Sacramento. After years of uncertainty whether the Kings would stay in town, the city put together a plan to keep the team in Sacramento

Sacramento State economics professor and Wells Fargo wealth adviser Sanjay Varshney says if that arena wasn't under construction, there's no way anyone would be talking about the possibility of an MLS stadium coming to the railyards.

"The fact that Sacramento succeeded in keeping the Kings here and are putting in a new arena will be a factor in whether or not we actually get soccer now," he said.

After years of business owners near the railyards telling the city leaders they needed an arena in the area, never before has it been such a real possibility.

Little did anyone know, the plans to revitalize a rundown section of the city would come not from basketball, but from the most popular sport in the world.

Varshney said: "The timing is perfect", but so is the greater Sacramento area, experts tell us. It's one of the most diverse in the country, and has soccer fans who are committed to the core.

The Sacramento Republic FC wrapped up its inaugural season with a USL Pro championship, setting multiple attendance records in the process.

The average attendance for an MLS game is 18,611. In its first games at Hughes Stadium before settling into its home at Bonney Field, the Republic averaged even higher attendance.

Varshney, the man who's an expert on money matters, says a Sacramento MLS team making money shouldn't matter right away.

"It's not about making money immediately," he said. "It's going to come in the long run. We have to make the right investments."

Existing MLS teams agree. Only half of the 19 teams in the league reported turning a profit last year. The most successful teams were the Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles Galaxy, and the Portland Timbers—a list Varshney says Sacramento is well-positioned to join.

In a sport where position is everything, California's capital city is giving everything it has, hoping to score and reap the benefits for years to come.

"If you're talking about whether or not soccer is going to help energize the economic base? Absolutely. is it going to help the quality of life? Absolutely," he said.

The answer to the question whether MLS will say yes to Sacramento isn't absolutely, but the journey just getting to that question in some ways has already changed the face of a city.

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