Sacramento Kings owner Kevin Nagle has bought a controlling interest in Sacramento Republic FC, the new minor-league soccer team that has drawn sellout crowds this year and that Nagle hopes to grow into a Major League Soccer franchise.
Nagle, 59, made his fortune as co-founder of Envision Pharmaceutical Holdings – a $3.5 billion-a-year drug benefits manager. The El Dorado Hills businessman is also the largest local shareholder and executive voting member of the Kings.
Nagle said he hopes his investment in the Sacramento Republic will bolster Sacramento’s chances of landing a franchise in MLS, the highest level of pro soccer in the United States. Nagle declined to say how much he invested in the Republic or how big of a stake he now owns in the team, saying only that he has “majority control.” Nagle’s title with the Republic will be managing partner.
“We have an opportunity to do this, and that opportunity is now,” Nagle said of the team’s bid for an MLS franchise. “We are more in control of our destiny right now than we will be next year. If we don’t take advantage of that opportunity now, we may regret it.”
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The urgency comes from rival MLS bids being mounted in cities such as Las Vegas, Minneapolis and San Antonio.
Nagle and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson have stressed the need for unity in Sacramento to bolster local chances of persuading MLS to locate its 24th franchise here. On Thursday, Johnson called Nagle’s investment “a big win for Republic FC and our efforts to secure an MLS franchise.”
Kings President Chris Granger has publicly lobbied MLS in support of Sacramento’s bid, but it was not immediately clear Thursday whether any other Kings owners besides Nagle will join the new ownership group for the soccer team.
Granger was traveling and could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Nagle said he expects the Republic to work closely with Sacramento Basketball Holdings – the group that owns the Kings.
As a franchise, the Kings’ owners are focused on building a new downtown arena while turning around a basketball team that has suffered eight straight losing seasons. With such large tasks before them, it’s understandable that the Kings would want to be deliberate about taking on the commitment of joining the Republic, Nagle said. But competition from other cities vying for MLS means he and the Republic must move forward now.
He predicted that at least some other Kings owners will join him in his soccer venture. “Regardless of that, you’re going to see other (Kings investors) come on board because they want to be part of (the Republic) now.”
By the time MLS officials visit Sacramento on Sept. 18, Nagle said, he hopes to publicly unveil more local investors in the Republic.
During that two-day visit, MLS officials are expected to meet with Johnson, city officials and the soccer team owners. League officials also plan to meet with promoters of a rival bid to build a stadium in Elk Grove and put an MLS team there.
The purchase of the Republic is the latest event in a whirlwind year for the startup team founded by Warren Smith, who will remain as team president.
A former River Cats executive, Smith’s blueprint for the Republic was simple: If the minor-league team could draw big crowds, it would draw investors and prove that Sacramento was a strong market for soccer.
The plan worked. The Republic smashed attendance records in the USL Pro league, which is two developmental rungs down from MLS. The team drew more than 20,000 fans at initial games at Hughes Stadium and has continued selling out Bonney Field, its new venue at the Cal Expo fairgrounds.
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“Ultimately, we hoped we could create something special for Sacramento,” Smith said.
Because the MLS visit is only two weeks away, Nagle and Smith said it was too soon to have a fully formed stadium plan to present to league officials. But the two echoed Johnson, who said a new MLS stadium in Sacramento should be privately financed. A number of possible sites have been floated, but the focus for now is on two parcels in the downtown railyard.
“We’re not going to have all the answers but … we just went through this as a community,” Smith said of Sacramento’s successful efforts to prevent the Kings from being relocated.
“What you saw there was a community united. We’re using a lot of the same playbook. We have a play-to-win strategy.”