UPDATE: March 1, 2021
Just days after billionaire investor Ron Burkle pulled out of the deal to bring a Major League Soccer team to Sacramento, one of the Republic FC’s top executives announced Monday that he’s stepping down.
For years, Ben Gumpert was the Sacramento Republic FC’s President and COO. He helped bridge a deal to promote the team to the MLS from the United Soccer League, and also aided in efforts to build a soccer stadium at the downtown Railyards.
Gumpert announced in a letter to fans on the team’s website that he’ll transition to an advisor to the team’s execs and ownership group.
“Because I can’t come up with the right words myself to wrap this letter, I will steal the closing line from ‘The Chant’ that launched this very club: ‘The Republic marches on,’” Gumpert wrote. “Because that’s how it is built and that’s what it always does. Onward!”
He did not state why he’s stepping down.
Gumpert’s resignation and Burkle pulling out of his deal as lead investor to bring an MLS team to Sacramento raise the same question: Can the city stay on track to get a major league club by 2023?
By CapRadio Staff
The main investor in Sacramento's Major League Soccer expansion team backed out of the deal Friday citing "issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic," according to a statement from the league.
Billionaire Ron Burkle, who also owns the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, came on board as lead investor in the project in January 2019. The Sacramento Republic FC was awarded a MLS franchise in October of that year, seven years after the team's founding.
In a statement, MLS officials said the league would "evaluate possible next steps" for a team in Sacramento, which had been slated to begin play in 2022 before that was pushed back a year due to the pandemic.
"After working for many years to bring an MLS team to Sacramento, the League continues to believe it can be a great MLS market," the statement reads. "In the coming days, the League will work with Mayor Darrell Steinberg to evaluate possible next steps for MLS in Sacramento.
Steinberg said he was disappointed in Burkle's decision, but added that the city would work with MLS to find a new investor.
"Despite the difficult past year for our city, we have upheld every commitment to Mr. Burkle, the league, and our community," Steinberg wrote in a statement. "We took major steps to welcome Major League Soccer to a new stadium in The Railyards, and we remain prepared to move forward immediately."
This is the latest hurdle in the city's quest for a MLS team. Since trying to join the league, the team has had other investors, such as San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York, withdraw from the project. Sacramento was also passed over multiple times as the MLS awarded franchises to other cities, including Nashville and Cincinnati.
But the project's fortunes seemed to change after Burkle joined as lead investor in 2019. The Sacramento City Council then approved an approximately $33 million investment to build a $252 million stadium in the downtown Railyards.
In addition to the stadium, the investment included purchasing 17 acres in the downtown Railyards for entertainment, retail and office space. The buildout was considered a key piece of the Railyards' redevelopment.
The city was then officially awarded an MLS franchise by the league in October 2019 in a ceremony attended by Gov. Gavin Newsom at the Bank Food Hall in downtown Sacramento, which seemed to mark the end of the city’s quest for another major league sports team to complement the NBA's Kings.
“Today’s victory is sweeter because it was anything but easy,” Steinberg said at the 2019 event. “Let me proclaim the following: The ‘wouldn’t it be great if’ era in Sacramento is over. … We are a major league city in every way.”
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