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Sacramento's MLS Dreams Far From Dead; Stadium Plans Will Play Key Role In League's Decision

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) —When word came out this week about a Minneapolis bid for a Major League Soccer team getting the league's backing, it seemed like the air was sucked out of Sacramento's bid.

An article from Northern Pitch cited sources saying MLS gave written support for the Minnesota United FC's efforts to build a stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

Tucked away 900 words into the piece at the end is a very important sentence:

"The status of other expansion bids—including that of Sacramento Republic FC, who have been widely considered favorites along with Minnesota for the league's 23rd and 24th spots—is unknown to us."

As you'll see in a bit, support from MLS—whether oral or written—isn't a guarantor of a team.

But first, let's all take a deep breath and look at where things have been and where they stand now.

Sacramento has been in competition with two rival bids from Minnesota, one from Las Vegas. At one point, Elk Grove even tried to get in on the act, but it was short-lived.

Las Vegas struggled to secure public financing for a stadium deal, with votes on approving the stadium delayed on multiple occasions. MLS informed Las Vegas in February it would be out of the running for 2017 and 2018.

The rival bids in Minnesota were the focus of talks this week—one came from the Minnesota Vikings ownership, who wanted to put the team in its new $1 billion indoor stadium, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The other was an upstart group led by former UnitedHealth Group executive Bill McGuire, who pitched business leaders on a cheaper, viable option for an outdoor stadium near Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins.

McGuire's group had been seen as an underdog going in, but in something that's going to be a common refrain through this story—it's the stadium, stupid. There's one thing that all MLS teams have in common; they all play in outdoor stadiums. So long as McGuire had a serious plan for an outdoor stadium, his group had a great chance of beating out the Minnesota Vikings group.

Throw in the fact that MLS Commissioner Don Garber has had his eyes on the Midwest for expansion for a variety of reasons, McGuire's group has had a fantastic shot of landing a franchise.

MLS has its eyes locked on expanding to 24 teams by the year 2020. With New York City and Orlando City joining the league this season, the league is back up to 20 teams. Two more teams in Los Angeles and Atlanta will bring that total to 22 in 2017. If Minnesota was awarded a franchise, it and Miami would bring the total to 24.

That means game over for Sacramento, right? Well, not exactly.

Despite England and Los Angeles Galaxy star David Beckham headlining the Miami bid, they're missing one important element—a stadium.

As part of Beckham's MLS contract, he's able to buy a team at a discount. Garber even announced the team would be successful

"He chooses Miami because he believes in this city. People here love this sport. We, together, have no doubt that it will be a successful MLS team."

Commissioner Don Garber - Feb. 5, 2014 - CBS Miami

There was even talk of Miami Heat superstar LeBron James joining the bid. But like James, the hopes for an MLS team may leave Miami because there is no stadium plan in place.

It's not for lack of trying. The first plan called for building at PortMiami, but that plan died following a campaign with deep pockets opposing it and county commissioners rejecting the plan.

In May, the group was confident a waterfront project was the way to go, with one of Beckham's partners declaring, "We believe now that we have found the right location."

In June, he would be proven wrong. Two and a half weeks after unveiling the plan, it died after Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado changed his mind after residents vehemently opposed the plan.

Now, Miami-Dade County officials are attempting to offer a parcel near the home of the Miami Marlins, but it's a plan the group has previously rejected.

While Garber would love to give the England star a chance at a franchise, it still comes down to the stadium. During December's Stat of the League address, he made it abundantly clear.

"If they don't have the right stadium we won't go there. Until they get it finalized we can't make the commitment to go to Miami."

MLS Commissioner Don Garber - Dec. 2, 2014, CBS Sacramento

In other words, it's the stadium, stupid.

By keeping the Sacramento Kings in town, the city has shown it's capable of putting together a plan to build an arena for a professional sports team.

A major part of the debate in the Sacramento Kings arena project was how much public financing would be used, and how it would be raised. That won't be an issue for a proposed MLS stadium, as Mayor Kevin Johnson has said no public financing would go into the arena.

The public financing debate would likely be harsher for Miami's bid. Both the city of Miami and Miami-Dad County recently paid a significant portion of the $634 million cost of Marlins Park, the home of the Miami Marlins that opened in 2012. The ballpark the city and county paid more than half a billion dollars for a building that has largely sat empty, as Marlins crowds continued to be small, with average attendance barely at 20,000 tickets sold a game.

With no stadium in place, the Miami bid is on even shakier ground. At some point, the patience of MLS is going to run out. If the Miami bid falls through, it doesn't matter whether Minnesota is awarded a team, because Sacramento will be firmly in contention to land an MLS team.

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