The Carolina Panthers' executive who is leading efforts to bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte says a pair of soccer-related deals announced Tuesday gives the city momentum to land a top-level professional team.
Panthers' President Tom Glick announced that Charlotte has reached a deal to host summer soccer matches in the International Champions Cup tournament for the next five years. That begins July 20, when English club Arsenal plays Italy's Fiorentina at Bank of America Stadium.
It's the first long-term deal between a host city and the tournament promoters, Relevent Sports Group. They also picked Charlotte to host their annual two-day "House of Soccer" fan fest the weekend of the Arsenal-Fiorentina match, at Romare Bearden Park. Charlotte will be the only city to host the event.
For Glick, hired a year ago by the Panthers' billionaire owner David Tepper, it was a chance to send a message to Major League Soccer officials.
"Momentum, and, you know, it's more proof points," Glick said. "Charlotte has been performing as a soccer market for many years."
A LONG-TERM PLAN BEARING FRUIT?
Charlotte has hosted international soccer matches in the past, and they typically draw big crowds. That's often cited as an argument for bringing Major League Soccer to town.
Tepper has expressed interest in an MLS team ever since he bought the Panthers from Jerry Richardson a year ago. He mentioned it in his first press conference last July at the stadium.
Last August, he hired Glick in part for his soccer background. Glick helped found the MLS club New York City FC four years ago. Before that, he was an executive with English soccer club Manchester City.
Bringing Major League Soccer to Charlotte is a major goal, even if Tepper and Glick haven't made any formal announcements of a bid.
'OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE PROCESS'
On Tuesday, Glick said no announcement is needed.
"I'm not even so sure that a formal bid process is the right way to describe it. It's very clear to Major League Soccer executives, the commissioner and the owners that we have an interest," he said.
Asked if he had submitted any bid documents with financial and stadium plans, Glick said: "We shall see, we'll be guided by them on the process. I think right now it's about bringing the evidence of how well this is going to work. And we'll be guided by them in terms of what they want to do next," Glick said.
He said Tuesday's deals are key parts of that evidence.
MLS EXPANDING TO 30 TEAMS
Charlotte lost out on a Major League Soccer franchise two years ago. But the league is expanding again, and some experts think a new Charlotte bid could have a better chance now, especially if it's led by Tepper.
The MLS announced plans in April to expand to 30 teams in the coming years. Teams from Miami, Nashville and Austin are expected to begin play in the next two years, bring the total to 27. League officials say they'll pick the 28th and 29th expansion teams before the July 31 All-Star Game in Orlando. Officials say they're in discussions with St. Louis and Sacramento for those two slots.
That leaves the final slot up for grabs. Tepper and Glick hope it's theirs. Glick said Tuesday he'd like a deal "as soon as possible." A recent Sports Illustrated article said the city is "very much in play" for a franchise.
Glick and Tepper will head to New York in the coming days to continue discussions with the MLS. Glick said they're "optimistic about the process and confident about our candidacy."