“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” – Abraham Lincoln
Recently, the NBA’s Kings and NFL’s 49ers have become investors in Sacramento Republic FC. The soccer team who has just finished their very first season currently play in US Soccer’s third division, USL PRO, and won the league championship while drawing an average attendance of 13,763 per game. But from their inception, Sacramento has been trying to woo MLS to become one of the leagues next expansion teams. Commissioner Don Garber says MLS will announce their expansion plans before this coming summer.
Sacramento’s mayor Kevin Johnson, who not only has been supportive of the team’s objective to move to MLS but has been proactive as well, is believed to have orchestrated the deal which could very well take them over the top.
With the Vikings and Minnesota United both bidding on a MLS team for Minnesota, this competition for a franchise could end up delaying MLS coming into the market until the league expands beyond 24 teams, especially if David Beckham’s Miami team finally comes to fruition.
Mayor Johnson took a subtle jab at Minnesota when he said, “Some of the other cities that are bidding for soccer, they’re trying to work out their dynamics. We don’t have that issue here in Sacramento.” Of course he was referring to the competing bids in Minnesota between the Vikings owner Mark Wilf and the owner of the current professional soccer team, Minnesota United, owned by Dr. Bill McGuire.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber is clearly a fan of the Minneapolis market. “It’s very positive that we have multiple owners in an important market that want to come into Major League Soccer. We have got a lot of decisions we need to make. We are bullish on Minneapolis. We think it’s a good market, it’s an important market for us strategically from a geographic perspective,” Garber said.
Currently, MLS is working with both ownership groups and has praise for each. “We love the two ownership groups. We’ve been spending time with both of them. We have work to do with both groups. But I’m very bullish on the market,” said Garber.
The Vikings will have a brand new billion dollar stadium that will be MLS friendly. Minnesota United has built a quality organization that has done such a good job they have developed U.S. National Team talent like Miguel Ibarra and produced a team that had the best overall record in the NASL in 2014. Could Commissioner Garber be working behind the scenes to “work out their dynamics” and try to combine the two ownership groups into a partnership?
We don’t really know if Minnesota United or the Vikings are currently communicating with each other. We do know that Dr. McGuire reached out to the Wilf’s before he bought Minnesota United and asked if they were interested in a partnership which the Vikings declined. We also know both groups did give competing presentations at MLS Headquarters back in November.
If Minneapolis is not picked as the 24th expansion team something interesting happens. The clock starts running on the Vikings “exclusive right to establish major league soccer at their new stadium” the very first time the NFL team steps foot on their new stadium turf to play a game. That will be in August of 2016. This means the first week of August 2021 is when anyone wishing to bring an MLS team to Minnesota, which includes Minnesota United, could theoretically move a soccer team into the five year old stadium with a negotiated deal with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. Whoever that party is would have an inside track on being MLS expansion team #25 – without having to build a stadium themselves.
Does this “super deal” negotiated by Mayor Johnson make MLS expansion to Sacramento a no-brainer? If so, where does that leave Minnesota in the expansion race? Does Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges need to step up and play peacemaker as Mayor Johnson has done? Or perhaps it’s bigger than that and the role of peacemaker should fall to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton who oversaw the original stadium bill? Both Mayor Hodges and Governor Dayton have major stakes in this game. The State is on the hook for $348 million of the new stadium and the city of Minneapolis $150 million.