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'We Have Upheld Every Commitment': Steinberg Says Sacramento MLS Expansion Efforts To Continue After Lead Investor Backs Out

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Mayor Darrell Steinberg said Sacramento's efforts to bring an MLS expansion team to the city will continue after a lead investor backed out of the deal, putting the plan in jeopardy.

Steinberg said in a statement Friday he is disappointed that Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle will not uphold his commitment to the city.

"Despite the difficult past year for our city, we have upheld every commitment to Mr. Burkle, the league, and our community," the mayor said. "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 said the pandemic was a key role in Burkle's decision.

"Earlier today, Ron Burkle informed the League that based on issues with the project related to COVID-19, he has decided to not move forward with the acquisition of an MLS expansion team in Sacramento, the league said in a statement.

Sacramento was awarded an expansion team back in October 2019 with an initial projected debut in 2022. Sacramento Republic FC, of the United Soccer League, was expected to make the jump up.

"We understand the feelings of anger, disappointment and frustration – we share in those deeply," the club said in a statement Friday night. "Today's announcement is not a reflection of the fans, Sacramento or this club. Republic FC will continue to serve and support this community, true to its mission. As an organization, we will always represent Sacramento with pride."

The pandemic forced delays in the expansion plans and the building of the team's stadium in a 14-acre plot of land downtown in the Railyards.

"The original idea was to launch MLS in 2022, and then it was 2023, and not there's no question it's going to be now delayed because we need to find that new investor," Steinberg said.

Burkle, the lead investor in Sacramento Republic FC, spearheaded the city's efforts to acquire a team, the league said.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber remained hopeful in the mayor's quest for an expansion team.

"His commitment to the city and delivering for its passionate soccer fans should make all citizens of Sacramento proud, Garber said. "I remain incredibly optimistic about finalizing expansion plans for our 30th team."

The Tower Bridge Battalion, supporters of Sacramento Republic FC, said they were saddened but not surprised Burkle backed out.

"We're extremely disappointed. City officials put their faith into a person who never cared about Sacramento," said Matteo Cascio, a battalion member.

Despite Friday's news, Steinberg said Sacramento's pursuance of an expansion team is not over, and the City will work with the league to find a new investor. He said there was currently no indication any other investors were expected to pull their funding. Outside of Burkle, the team's ownership group included entertainment executive Matt Alvarez and Kevin Nagle, an investor in the Sacramento Kings.

"We will still bring MLS to Sacramento, and we will work with the league to find a new lead investor. We are not starting from scratch by any means, Steinberg said. "We have an approved stadium plan and an approved plan to build and pay for infrastructure. We also have the best fan base in the country – one that has shown time and time again that it can support an MLS team. We have only begun to fight for what our city deserves."

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