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Report: NBA owners eye investment opportunity in Sacramento soccer

The owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings are interested in dipping their toes into North American soccer, with an eye on turning a wildly popular minor league club into Major League Soccer’s next expansion franchise.

The Sacramento Bee reported on Sunday that the Kings’ owners are in discussions to invest in local USL PRO side Sacramento Republic FC, the franchise launched earlier this year that has smashed league attendance records in its debut season.

According to the report, Kings president Chris Granger is expected to travel to Portland with current Republic owner Warren Smith this week to meet with MLS officials and discuss their interest in someday taking the Sacramento club up to MLS.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is also expected to attend the meeting on Wednesday, according to the report.

A Sacramento Republic spokesperson confirmed to MLSsoccer.com on Sunday that Smith and various other club representatives will be in Portland for the All-Star week festivities, and that they will take part in a variety of meetings during their visit. The spokesperson did not confirm, however that Granger or any other Kings officials will be in attendance.

A spokesperson for Major League Soccer declined to comment on the meeting.

The latest news comes on the heels of recent booming attendance figures for the Republic, who beat Pittsburgh in front of a sold-out crowd of 8,000 fans at Bonney Field last week. That number pushed Sacramento’s season attendance total to 118,107, breaking the previous USL PRO mark of 112,748, set by 2015 MLS expansion franchise Orlando City SC in 2013.

Recent television ratings from this summer’s World Cup have drawn attention to Sacramento, which proved to be one of the most invested North American markets during the tournament. The World Cup final on July 13 drew a 12.0 overnight rating on ABC in Sacramento, seventh in the country and ahead of MLS markets like Chicago, Denver and Seattle.

According to the Bee, a source close to Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive (above left, with Kings minority owner Shaquille O'Neal) said he sees soccer as a “tremendous opportunity for a larger vision of growth in Sacramento.”

Sources told the Bee that Sacramento officials hope to formally schedule a visit by MLS officials to the region in the near future, and that members of the Sacramento group hope to have a new ownership group and a stadium plan in place when the MLS Board of Governors meets in September.

A location for the stadium, however, has not been determined yet.

“Clearly the support for the Republic has been noticed by all of us,” MLS executive vice president of communications Dan Courtemanche told the paper. “It’s been incredible what we’ve seen week in and week out.”

Sacramento currently sit in third place in the USL PRO standings though 21 games. They’re coached by former MLS great Preki.

Randive’s group paid a reported $534 million to the Maloof family for controlling interest of the Kings in June 2013.