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Nagle’s Expansion Letter Raises Hopes, Questions

MLS won’t be announcing another team in 2017, and while that’s good news for those who braced for bad news this week, things are still unclear.

Joe de Ocampo

UPDATE: In research since publishing, I have become convinced that Kevin Nagle is open to, and likely pursuing, a new lead investor, not just additional backing. For those seeking context on the delay in MLS expansion, the text below remains unchanged and contains a good deal of background. -KJK

Another day, another wrinkle in the expansion saga.

The first I heard of Kevin Nagle’s alleged difficulty with the Major League Soccer board was this Tweet:

That was two days ago, which is a lifetime in terms of hammering a business deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars now, and in the long term. It was easy to guess on Tuesday that Sacramento Republic’s chance of going to MLS was all but dead, especially with Nashville being leaked and no other announcements in sight.

However, if I’ve learned one thing from watching this process play out in Sacramento and other cities, MLS is nothing if not patient. The afore-mentioned financial magnitude of this situation is not lost on the people who have the most at stake, and they are not interested in getting it wrong.

That almost certainly explains Sacramento’s absence from MLS at this moment. Ready as the Republic is, MLS wants more than that. They want what’s best for MLS, and to be honest, I no longer know what that is.

But we have clues.

Kevin Nagle, lead investor of the united Republic FC bid for MLS, is a pretty wealthy person, but over the last weeks and months we’ve seen that MLS is swayed quite easily by lead investors whose billions in net worth are, let’s say, more robust.

So where does that leave Nagle’s bid? He already added Meg Whitman to the fold earlier this month, but Nagle is still the lead. In other words, whatever Whitman is worth, she will never own a larger share of the pie than Nagle does.

Add that to my impression recently that potential ownership groups are loath to dilute their shares further, and Nagle’s announcement earlier today becomes very interesting indeed.

At a press event, and released here, Nagle stated that given the extra time with which to make an improved pitch to MLS, he would be seeking additional investment to bolster the group. Good news, right? Well he also said this:

He’s going to continue as lead investor, but he’s “open and flexible” when it comes to adding partners.

I was a banker for many years, and while I never brokered a deal of this size, I can tell you one thing. No matter who owns it, 49% of $X is still 49%, no matter who owns it. Whoever owns the 49% is only on the hook for 49% of the reward, and 49% of the risk.

Nagle knows these negotiations better than I do, of course, but I still wonder why, if a hefty lead investor is what MLS wants, he doesn’t just come out and say that he’s willing to reduce his role in all this.

If he really, and truly wants to eliminate all roadblocks to getting that Golden Ticket, he’ll do what it takes.

MLS wants to be in Sacramento. The city and club are unquestionably ready, and have been for some time. We’ve been over this. So there is clearly a sticking point, and if it turns out to be Nagle’s willingness to jump the final hoop, it will be a real shame for all the people who have helped him get to this moment.