Sacramento Republic's MLS hopes get boost as Ron Burkle agrees to take over team

Sacramento Republic's MLS expansion bid received a major boost on Tuesday with the announcement that billionaire investor Ron Burkle has agreed to acquire a controlling interest in the club.

Sacramento was at one point viewed as the frontrunner to acquire an MLS expansion team, especially given that it has a stadium site secured. But Sacramento had struggled to construct an investor group with sufficient financial heft to compete with other bids. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman at one point appeared set to join the investor group, but later withdrew.

That led to California's capital losing out to the likes of Nashville, Cincinnati, and Austin, Texas. However, with Burkle -- who according to Forbes has a net worth of around $2 billion -- now on board, Sacramento would appear to have all the necessary pieces in place.

"For more than a year, we have worked tirelessly alongside Mayor [Darrel] Steinberg to identify a new lead investor that further strengthens our bid to bring Major League Soccer to Sacramento," said Republic chairman and CEO Kevin Nagel.

"While we held discussions with several potential investors, our focus was, and remains, on finding the right lead investor whose vision for our club and our city best aligns with ours. We are thrilled to announce today that we have found that new lead investor in Ron Burkle."

Burkle made his fortune buying and selling supermarket chains such as Ralphs, and he since has invested in high-tech companies and the entertainment industry. Burkle also has sports ownership experience, having been the lead investor of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins since 1999.

"Obviously, there's no guarantees, but this is everything [MLS officials] asked for last December," Mayor Steinberg told the Sacramento Bee. "So I'm feeling very hopeful and very confident. We're going to come back winners."

According to the Sacramento Bee, Burkle has tentatively agreed to buy Republic FC's proposed MLS stadium site at the downtown railyard, plus 14 adjacent acres to develop an entertainment district. The land is owned by a company controlled by developer Larry Kelley, a minority owner of Republic FC.

Nagel will remain with the organization as a senior executive and lead local investor.