Ron Burkle has decided not to move forward with the acquisition of Sacramento Republic FC, which had been due to join Major League Soccer in 2023 as the league’s 30th franchise.

Burkle said the decision has been made due to issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Burkle was the lead investor in the team and had spearheaded its efforts to join MLS.

MLS will now work with Mayor of Sacramento Darrell Steinberg to evaluate possible next steps for a franchise in the city. Sacramento was awarded an MLS expansion team in October 2019 and had been due to begin play in 2022, until that date was pushed back by a year due to the pandemic.

Sacramento Republic currently plays in the United Soccer League and stages its home games at the 11,000-seat Papa Murphy’s Park. A new $300m (£215m/€249m), 20,100-seat stadium was central to the club’s MLS ambitions but Friday’s announcement casts doubt over the project.

The stadium had been due to serve as the centrepiece of a wider project that would also include housing, retail, theatres, parks, museums, a hotel and a major medical centre. ESPN, citing multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, reported that issues relating to the stadium contributed to Burkle’s decision to pull out, with costs said to have risen to $400m.

MLS said in a statement that it continues to believe Sacramento can be a “great” market for the league.

MLS commissioner Don Garber said: “I want to thank Mayor Steinberg for his continued efforts to bring MLS to Sacramento. His commitment to the city and delivering for its passionate soccer fans should make all citizens of Sacramento proud.

“Interest in owning a club in Major League Soccer has never been higher. And I remain incredibly optimistic about finalising expansion plans for our 30th team.”

Despite Burkle’s decision to back out of the acquisition, Mayor Steinberg insisted that Sacramento is committed to delivering an MLS team to the city.

In a statement to ESPN, Mayor Steinberg said: “I am very disappointed in Mr. Burkle’s decision to step out of his October 2019 public commitment to our city. Despite the difficult past year for our city, we have upheld every commitment to Mr. Burkle, the league, and our community.

“We took major steps to welcome Major League Soccer to a new stadium in The Railyards, and we remain prepared to move forward immediately.

“I greatly appreciate the support of commissioner Don Garber and MLS. They have done right by us, and they continue to stand behind us. We will still bring MLS to Sacramento, and we will work with the league to find a new lead investor.”

Following the announcement by MLS, Sacramento Republic issued a statement that read: “We understand the feelings of anger, disappointment and frustration – we share in those deeply.

“Today’s announcement is not a reflection of the fans, Sacramento or this club. Republic FC will continue to serve and support this community, true to its mission. As an organisation, we will always represent Sacramento with pride. There is much more information to come about how we will continue our MLS journey.”

Image: Sacramento Republic