By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - The owners of the San Francisco 49ers football team have purchased a stake in Sacramento's minor league Republic soccer club, the second major team to do so this week in an effort to bolster the club's chances of winning major league status.
Sacramento sports boosters, including Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former star player with the National Basketball Association's Phoenix Suns, are trying to persuade Major League Soccer to pick the Republic as an expansion team, part of a move to make the state capital into a regional professional sports center.
"Today, it feels like Sacramento just won the Super Bowl," Johnson said Friday. "With Sacramento Republic FC partnering with the 49ers, one of the premiere sports franchises in the world, we can't be better positioned in our efforts to secure an MLS team ... and most importantly create jobs and economic growth for our region."
Friday's announcement that the an entity controlled by the York family, who own the 49ers, comes after Wednesday's announcement by the Sacramento Kings organization that the NBA team would buy its own stake in the Republic.
Major League Soccer is expected to decide as soon as next month whether to include Sacramento in its expansion plans. Other cities, including Minneapolis, Las Vegas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas, are also vying for a team.
The mayor sees the soccer bid as another element for the revitalization of downtown that he hopes will start with a glitzy new $477 million arena for the Kings on a site now occupied by a dilapidated shopping mall. Sacramento was hard-hit by the economic recession and is still struggling to recover.
"All of us are building Sacramento into a city that will set the example for the way sports and culture interact with American cities in the future," Johnson said.
In 2013, Johnson led a successful effort to keep the former owners of the Kings basketball team from selling the franchise to a group that wanted to move them to Seattle.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Alan Crosby)