It’s time to get down to brass tacks. Don Garber and Major League Soccer have said all the nice things about Sacramento that they can possibly say. And why not? You’re ready, River City. You’ve checked the boxes. You’ve done everything right. But for some reason, people across the landscape are asking this question:
Why aren't the @SacRepublicFC joining MLS sooner? I really can't wrap my head around 2020. Full infrastructure, fan base, distance from bay— Heath Pearce (@HeathGPearce) December 5, 2016
I don’t have the answer, but had I been at the “State of the League” address, I might have asked Garber a very pointed version of that question.
Do the other expansion bids have so much more financial potential than Sacramento’s that you’re willing to just wait and see?
No one can know what he would have said, but I’m betting that behind the scenes, the answer is most definitely yes.
There’s no other explanation. The Sacramento market and Republic FC are in a better position to join MLS than any other expansion in league history. The club’s front office punches above its weight in every category, and MLS-sized investors are lined up for the next step. The downtown stadium has green lights from here to the finish line, and even a critic of modern attendance-reporting procedures (like myself) can look and see at least 10,000 paying fans at Bonney Field, week in and week out.
So what’s the hold-up? Simply, I believe that MLS has reached a point in its history where its board is no longer in a hurry to expand. Cities and their investors are competing for a place at the table, so the league, in turn, can afford to be patient. Choosier. As my buddy Evan Villella might say, it’s a bit like a season of The Bachelor, and Garber is taking his time deciding between the candidates.
But Kepner, you’ll say, Sacramento is super cute, intelligent, athletic, charming, and she has her shit together! No possibility for unpleasant surprises! Why wouldn’t Garber choose her?!
Unfortunately, I’ll say, Garber and the people he represents are willing to wait and see if Detroit or Saint Louis or Cincinnati have wealthier fathers. (Have I taken the metaphor too far?)
And that’s it. That’s the elephant in the room. The old criteria when MLS was expanding beyond ten teams for the second, more tenuous time, basically amounted to, “Can probably survive for three years.” These days, there are no fewer than five markets making that claim, and if I’m an investor in MLS, I’m going to expand into the market that will pay me the most over the long haul. Clearly, at this moment at least, MLS is thinking that Sacramento is not that market.
There is certainly more to it than this, but in a broad sense, it at least brings some substance to the otherwise-shrugworthy question of the year. Yeah, Sacto, you've done everything right. You have reason to be proud. But that last piece of joining a now-exclusive club is apparently out of your control.