Mayor wants more pro sports in Sacramento. Can that happen?

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Sacramento Republic FC President Kevin Nagle, left, and Mayor Darrell Steinberg, center, hold a news conference outside City Hall on May 15.

Sacramento Republic FC President Kevin Nagle, left, and Mayor Darrell Steinberg, center, hold a news conference outside City Hall on May 15.

Sacramento Bee Archives

Some 95,000 people flocked to downtown Sacramento to experience the city’s first NBA playoff game in 17 years when the Kings hosted Game 1 of their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors. That just reinforced something Mayor Darrell Steinberg already knew about California’s capital city.

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“The people of Sacramento are hungry for more,” Steinberg told The Sacramento Bee. “Being a great city and building a great city is about creating more opportunities for joy or opportunities for people to come together.”

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The Kings are Sacramento’s lone major professional sports franchise in the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball or NHL. And while the city hosts the Sacramento Republic of the second-tier United Soccer League and Minor League Baseball’s Sacramento River Cats, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, there’s an appetite for more sports at the highest levels.

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Sacramento is the nation’s 20th-ranked media market, according to Nielsen, and it joins Orlando as the only other market in America’s top 20 with just one team in the four major sports.

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Eleven markets ranked lower than Sacramento — such as Charlotte, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Kansas City — have multiple teams in major sports leagues.

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“We want more sports and we want more professional sports franchises. Absolutely,” Steinberg said. “… The question is how to attract more major league sports in a way that is compatible with a limited city budget, a stressed city budget, and the rightful public insistence that we don’t use city general fund money to make it happen”

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Steinberg believes what many studies have argued: Publicly financed arenas and stadiums are often bad business for municipalities if funded by taxpayers, and revenue generated by these venues rarely gets pumped back into the local economy.

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Sacramento would need high levels of private investment to attract another major sports franchise. The teams themselves are often worth billions of dollars and a new venue could cost upwards of $1 billion to build. Golden 1 Center, Sacramento’s publicly owned downtown arena and the home of the Kings, was constructed at a cost of $558.2 million in 2016. Chase Center in San Francisco was privately financed and reportedly cost $1.6 billion. The Intuit Dome, where the Los Angeles Clippers will play beginning in 2024, is expected to cost $2 billion.

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Sacramento Kings fans Felipe Rodriguez (left), Giovanni Jimenez (center) and Daniel Montoya light a beam atop Golden 1 Center on Saturday, April 15 to celebrate their victory over After the Golden State Warriors, celebrate by ringing cowbells and waving beams outside, 2023, the first round of the playoffs.
Sacramento Kings fans Felipe Rodriguez (left), Giovanni Jimenez (center) and Daniel Montoya light a beam atop Golden 1 Center on Saturday, April 15 to celebrate their victory over After the Golden State Warriors, celebrate by ringing cowbells and waving beams outside, 2023, the first round of the playoffs.lezley sterling lsterling@sacbee.com

There are no known billionaires who live in Sacramento. Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, who lives in Atherton, is reportedly worth some $700 million.

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A lack of investment dollars was a leading factor when a deal with Major League Soccer fell through in February 2021. The deal unraveled after Ron Burkle, a billionaire from Los Angeles, backed out of an agreement that would have made Republic FC an MLS expansion franchise with a new stadium in the Railyards north of downtown Sacramento.

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The league announced last month San Diego would get an expansion franchise and become the 30th team to join MLS. The team is expected to begin play in 2025. San Diego will be the 10th team MLS has added since 2015. The league has not ruled out further expansion to 31 or 32 clubs.

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Steinberg indicated Sacramento would remain in the running for an MLS expansion club should the league grow beyond 30 teams. He is optimistic about a new investor making that possible should the league reengage Sacramento in expansion talks.

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“It’s delicate because I wish I could tell you and the public everything, (but) I can’t,” Steinberg said. “I would say that we’re still very much in the middle of the action. And we still have a real chance.”

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The plan for a modern soccer stadium remains in place regardless of what happens with MLS and Republic FC. Owner Kevin Nagle expects to make an announcement in July regarding the proposed $150 million, 15,000-seat stadium, which could expand its capacity to 25,000 for the MLS. Nagle and Steinberg are working together to finalize a construction plan that was approved by the city council before Burkle backed out of the previous MLS agreement.

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“We just can’t afford to wait much longer because we’re missing opportunities on a much larger stadium with a bunch of other events that really help us and the community and the region,” Nagle said earlier this spring. “That’s the excitement of why we need to get a stadium built.”

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Sacramento Republic FC plans to build a new soccer stadium in downtown Railyards that will hold 12,000 to 15,000 fans. It's not contingent on the team moving to Major League Soccer.
Sacramento Republic FC plans to build a new soccer stadium in downtown Railyards that will hold 12,000 to 15,000 fans. It’s not contingent on the team moving to Major League Soccer. Republic FC/Manica

Sacramento interested in MLB

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The presence of the Oakland Athletics and Giants 90 miles west in the Bay Area has been an impediment to Major League Baseball in Sacramento for decades.

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Relocation talks in Oakland have fueled renewed speculation about Sacramento serving as a temporary or permanent home for the A’s. Owner John Fisher appears intent on moving the team from Oakland, but there has been no indication the team is considering any option outside of Las Vegas.

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The A’s are last in Major League Baseball in attendance at 8,555. A crowd of 27,000 showed up for Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays to stage a reverse boycott, chanting “sell the team.”

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Nevada this week passed a bill giving the A’s $380 million in public funding for a $1.5 billion stadium on the strip at the site of the Tropicana. Las Vegas is uniquely positioned for sports because of its tourism, but it is the country’s 40th-ranked media market and there is skepticism over the A’s ability to consistently draw enough fans on the strip to be profitable over an 81-game home schedule.

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Sacramento is a bigger media market with loyal fan bases behind the Kings and Republic FC. The River Cats led minor league baseball in attendance for nine years. Sacramento could be a sensible alternative to Sin City and there appears to be an appetite for big league baseball in town.

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Steinberg went on Sactown Sports 1140 radio April 20 and said, “Major League Baseball knows Sacramento is interested in adding another sports team to this city.”

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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has shown an interest in growing the league from 30 to 32 teams with Nashville, Portland, Salt Lake City and Charlotte as reported contenders for expansion. There have been no known connections with Sacramento.

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“I have had conversations with (people) who are very involved in these questions,” Steinberg said. “But Sacramento would be a great Major League Baseball city.”

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But at what venue?

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Sutter Health Park, the West Sacramento home of the River Cats, was once believed to be expandable to accommodate Major League Baseball with the addition of outfield seating and another deck built upon the preexisting grandstands. But it’s more likely the current stadium would have to be razed to build more modern amenities, like clubhouses under the grandstand behind the dugouts, which are common in big league ballparks. The current clubhouses are in a separate building beyond the left field wall.

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Ranadivé and his Kings ownership group purchased the River Cats and their stadium last summer.

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If not the current Sutter Health Park site, the Railyards, where Republic FC is planning to build its soccer stadium, could be an option.

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Steinberg was asked if the Railyards could potentially hold two new venues. He indicated through the process of working on the deal for the new soccer stadium that inroads have been made with Downtown Railyards Ventures, the development company overseeing the area.

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“I think all is possible,” Steinberg said. “We and the DRV have really broken through over the last five years when you look at what the plans are and what’s actually committed.”

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The Sacramento Monarchs celebrate their WNBA championship victory over the Connecticut Sun at the Arco Arena in Sacramento on Tuesday, September 20, 2005.
The Sacramento Monarchs celebrate their WNBA championship victory over the Connecticut Sun at the Arco Arena in Sacramento on Tuesday, September 20, 2005.Carl Costas Sacramento Bee Archives

Bring back the Monarchs?

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The WNBA has had 12 teams since 2008 and is considering adding two expansion teams as soon as 2024, according to a report from The Athletic, but Sacramento is not on the list of cities being considered, though Oakland and San Francisco are.

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Ranadivé has expressed interest in reviving the Sacramento Monarchs, who were one of the WNBA’s eight original franchises. They debuted in 1997, won a WNBA championship in 2005 and dissolved in 2009 when the Maloof family, former owners of the Kings, decided to stop operating the team.

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That was long before Golden 1 Center became a downtown sports hub. The arena would provide a turnkey, modern option with far more fan appeal and amenities than the team’s former home at Arco Arena, which was demolished in 2022.

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“When the Monarchs were here, they were one of the hits of the town,” Steinberg said. “They were incredibly popular. … I would love Sacramento to bring back the Monarchs to (Golden 1 Center). … So my stance on it that having the WNBA and Monarchs back in Sacramento would be a great thing.”

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The Kings declined to comment when asked about their interest or efforts to bring back the Monarchs.

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Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg shakes hands with Sacramento Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive ahead of the Kings' season opener against the Houston Rockets at the Golden 1 Center on Wednesday.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg shakes hands with Sacramento Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive ahead of the Kings’ season opener against the Houston Rockets at the Golden 1 Center on Wednesday.Hector Amescua sacramento bee

How about hockey?

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Sources told The Bee Ranadivé was one of seven finalists bidding to purchase the NHL’s Ottawa Senators following the death of owner Eugene Melnyk in March 2022, but ultimately Ranadivé dropped out. The Senators must remain in Ottawa as a stipulation of the sale, which could be days away, according to the Ottawa Sun.

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Golden 1 Center would be difficult to configure for hockey if an NHL team ever comes to Sacramento. The arena was built to be a basketball facility, with a smaller lower bowl designed to bring fans closer to the court.

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Dual-purpose arenas that house NHL and NBA teams are often far bigger to accommodate a regulation ice rink. NHL rinks are 200 feet long and 85 feet wide with a far larger footprint than NBA courts, which are 94 feet by 50 feet. The New York Islanders played in the basketball-specific Barclays Center in Brooklyn from 2015-20, but they ended up breaking their 25-year lease and built the new USB Arena roughly an hour east at Belmont Park.

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Given Ranadivé’s interest in the Senators, Sacramento has been discussed as a possible relocation site for the struggling Arizona Coyotes. Voters recently rejected a public referendum for a new arena in Tempe, Arizona, leaving the Coyotes searching for options after operating at a reported annual loss of $20 million to $30 million at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale.

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Any serious discussion of the Coyotes coming to Sacramento would be news to Steinberg.

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“Not that I know of,” he said. “We would welcome anything that adds to the vitality and fun and opportunity to our city, but I have not had those conversations.”

Chris Biderman's Avatar

Chris Biederman covered the 49ers from 2013 to 2021 and began coverage with the Sacramento Bees in August 2018. He previously worked for The Associated Press and USA TODAY Sports Media Group. A native of Santa Rosa, he graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in journalism.



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