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Sacramento's entry into Major League Soccer delayed one year due to coronavirus

Tony Bizjak and Marcos Breton, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Soccer

Sacramento Republic FC's entry into Major League Soccer has been delayed one year due to complications from the coronavirus pandemic, including uncertainty about how to design a stadium for the post-COVID-19 era as well as a desire by the team and league to wait until fans and the Sacramento economy are back on their feet.

Matt Alvarez, a Hollywood producer whose investment group landed an MLS team for Sacramento last fall, said that group remains focused on bringing the team here and building a state-of-the-art stadium, as promised.

But, given the current virus issues and uncertainties – including an indefinite California ban on fans in stadiums – Alvarez said his group and MLS officials agreed that the smartest step is to take the time "to launch it the right way."

Alvarez's investor group, headed by Los Angeles supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle, won the rights in October 2019 to operate a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, and with it the initial obligation to build a 20,000-plus seat stadium in the city's downtown Railyard redevelopment site downtown by 2022.

MLS officials announced Friday they have reached the same one-year postponement agreement with St. Louis, the other team that was going to enter the league in 2022. Charlotte, which was to begin play in 2021, will wait a year until 2022.

"We are still bullish on soccer, MLS and Sacramento," Alvarez told The Sacramento Bee during a Friday phone interview. "We try to keep perspective. We think Major League Soccer has a ton of room for growth. This is a long play for us. We are in it for the long haul.

 

"We want to give the market an extra year to improve."

For the moment, it has become harder to line up construction materials and crews. The financial markets for loans are more expensive. And sports officials are still in the early stages of understanding how to redesign new sports facilities in a way that makes them safer for fans, but still allows for the close-together experience that makes stadiums exciting.

Alvarez said new stadium designs may have fewer seats, and wider aisles, but that fans are expected to still have that sense of being part of a large, intimate vocal group.

"There will be a strong (economic) comeback," Alvarez said. "People hunger for sports, and collective experiences."

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