Is Sacramento Now the Favorite for MLS Expansion?

Peter Galindo@@GalindoPWFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2015

Mark Thomas Kallweit/Sacramento Republic

The Sacramento Republic received a big boost on Thursday night. The San Francisco 49ers owners announced that they will invest in the team as the USL Pro side vies for MLS expansion, per the club's official website. The Sacramento Kings are also involved with Republic FC, and these two owners as business partners will make the California city an attractive market for MLS expansion.

Jed York, the 49ers' CEO, told The Sacramento Bee that the Republic's lead investors are "a great group of people" and that he's confident of the club gaining MLS status.

York's confidence is understandable. Vivek Ranadive, the Kings owner, is worth $700 million, according to CelebrityNetWorth.com, and is close friends with Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, per Marcos Breton and Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee.

Meanwhile, York has an estimated net worth of $2.6 billion as of 2013, per ESPN The Magazine's Seth Wickersham, so there is certainly no shortage of available monetary resources for the Republic's MLS project.

This project already includes a stadium (with renderings) if Sacramento is awarded an MLS franchise, and the demand is definitely there. Republic FC broke attendance records in its inaugural USL Pro season. The club finished the season by winning the league title this past September.

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The investors' connections and the stadium plan gives Sacramento a significant advantage over other expansion markets. David Beckham's project in Miami continues to stall due to his search for a potential venue, as Don Garber's wish for the building to be located in the downtown core is causing delays.

However, Beckham told E! Online (h/t MLSSoccer.com) that significant news is coming on the stadium front as well as other announcements on the expansion team.

On the other hand, the same thing was said in December and subsequently no further information was disclosed. This very well could be another false alarm.

The problems in Miami are fueling Sacramento's prospects, but the city is also competing with a few other big names as well.

Commissioner Garber said there is interest from St. Louis, Minneapolis and Las Vegas. League representatives from the latter two cities and Sacramento visited MLS headquarters in November.

Zygi Wilf, the owner of the Minnesota Vikings, is one of two interested parties who want an MLS team in Minneapolis. In St. Louis, there are plans to build a stadium worth nearly $1 billion, which could also house an MLS team, per Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com. The city recently acquired a USL Pro franchise as well.

Las Vegas is also a contender as it just had a stadium approved by the city with the proviso that it must land an MLS team.

However, Sacramento is ahead of every other competing market. The city has strong investors who are committed to the project, there are passionate fans and a stadium is being built in a fantastic location. Other markets meet the above criteria but having both NFL and NBA owners has to be a huge boost.

Garber has to be intrigued by what is transpiring in the Californian capital. He will announce the next round of expansions later this year, and it looks like Sacramento is the front-runner right now.