Now that billionaires have discovered Sacramento is eager to give them public money, and a big-shot politician like Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is eager to gut environmental protections for a Kings arena project, expect another pro sports business to hop aboard the gravy train.
That would be Major League Soccer, which is making overtures to Elk Grove and Sacramento. Elk Grove stepped into the slop last month when its City Council agreed to start looking for a site for a sparkling new soccer stadium, perhaps a $100 million one, that would be home for an MLS franchise some day.
The stadium and franchise plan pits Elk Grove against Sacramento in a race to get an MLS team, the Sacramento Bee reported last month. Sacramento gained a lower-division United Soccer League team in December, with an eye toward transitioning to a plum MLS franchise.
An ownership group led by former state Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Sacramento sports attorney Richard Hyde signed an exclusive agreement with Elk Grove in December 2011 to pave the way for the franchise and stadium.
“I feel very confident I will be able to deliver an MLS team to Elk Grove,” Núñez said.
In Wednesday’s Bee, columnist Marcos Breton, a cheerleader for subsidizing arena billionaires, announced that MLS commissioner Don Garber had tweeted him to say he coming to Sacramento next month to check things out. Credit Garber for knowing sympathetic columnists in cities with grandiose aspirations.
Where MLS goes, the politicians and lobbyists are rarely far behind. The league, which has 19 teams nationwide, three of them in California, is pushing hard to build a stadium on city-owned parkland in Queens. It takes a lot of political muscle to get 13 acres of public parkland for free in the Big Apple.
So what sports group turns out to have major league expenses for lobbyists. Major League Soccer, of course. The league ranked third in spending in New York State last year with more than $2 million paid out to twist political arms, according to the New York Times. A business group supporting Gov. Andrew Cuomo topped the list at $4.2 million. ExxonMobil was second.
Mix sports, politicians and public money and you get a brew that’s poisonous to the interests of average folks who foot the bill.