It's Official! Charlotte Gets Major League Soccer
Charlotte has officially scored a Major League Soccer franchise.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber made the announcement Tuesday morning in a ceremony at the Mint Museum uptown. The Charlotte franchise will be the league's 30th, and the team will start playing as early as 2021 at Bank of America Stadium.
"This is a historic day for Major League Soccer," Garber said. "It's a historic day for the sport of soccer in North America, and it really is a historic day for the Queen City."
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper will own the team. He and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles joined Garber for the announcement.
"I think this sport, with all the new arrivals that have come to the city, we can kind of tie everybody together," Tepper said.
Charlotte City Council tentatively approved incentives – including $110 million in tourism tax dollars to renovate the stadium for soccer – in closed session but has yet to formally vote. According to documents released by the city last week, the city also told MLS that the team can be headquartered at the old Eastland Mall site off Central Avenue.
Tepper has been pushing for an MLS team for Charlotte since he became the majority owner of the Carolina Panthers in 2018, and talks have been ongoing for months. On Dec. 5, Tepper made a formal presentation to the League.
According to The Associated Press, the price of an MLS expansion team is likely to be upwards of $300 million.
"We're going to have one big party all season long for soccer in Charlotte," Tepper said.
Tepper also suggested the team, which has yet to be named, will have a strong rivalry with Atlanta United FC — the MLS team closest to Charlotte.
"There's another city down the road to the west," Tepper said. "Charlotte is hot. We're the hot city. Screw that other city, OK?"
DT Soccer LLC, a Panthers affiliate, has already filed a list of potential names for an MLS team with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Those include Charlotte FC, Charlotte Crown FC and six others.
"This is a soccer market," Garber said of Charlotte." It has one of the most competitive and vibrant youth soccer markets anywhere in North America, and it's been home to some of the best men's and women's programs in all of college sports."
Rocio Gonzalez is head of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce in Charlotte. She says a professional soccer team will appeal to Charlotte's diversity, including those with roots in Latin America.
"The Latino community is not only concentrated in Mecklenburg County, but in about seveb to eight counties throughout our area," Gonzalez said. "We extend farther from Statesville to Rock Hill to Albemarle to Gaston County, Lincoln County. I know that having this sport here is going to bring thousands, thousands of people."
Trey Eskridge of Charlotte was at the announcement Tuesday with soccer fan club Mint City Collective and has cheered for the city's minor league teams in the past.
"I'm a native, so I'm one of those rare unicorns around here that has seen this city grow up," Eskridge said. "I've wanted a professional team here ever since I was a little kid. We had the Charlotte Eagles. We have the Charlotte Independence. Now we have an MLS team."
This is a developing story and will be updated.