The head of Major League Soccer says the league will announce its 30th team in the coming months, and Charlotte is the frontrunner.
Carolina Panthers' owner David Tepper has been pushing hard this year to win a Major League Soccer expansion team. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the league is considering Charlotte, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
"And it’s fair to say Charlotte has done a lot of work to move their bid really to the front of the line. It starts with David Tepper, the owner of the Panthers, who's a very passionate guy about sport, very passionate about Charlotte," Garber said in his State of the League Speech in Seattle Friday.
Garber compared Charlotte's diversity and corporate involvement to that of Atlanta, where Atlanta United just finished its third season. The club has set MLS attendance records with more than 50,000 fans per game, and it's the league's most valuable, at a half-billion dollars, according to Forbes.
"I think the Carolinas are good, is a good state for soccer. You know that from a women’s soccer perspective and from a youth soccer perspective. And should we be able to move forward and end up with a team in Charlotte, I’m confident it'll be successful," Garber said.
Garber reiterated that Charlotte is the front-runner in an interview during Sunday's MLS Cup championship game on ABC. The Seattle Sounders beat Toronto FC for the title.
Tepper has already announced soccer-related deals, including one with Ally Financial to become the team's lead sponsor. But there's more work to do. Tepper will have to pay an expansion fee expected to be well above the $200 million paid by other recent expansion teams.
And he's lobbying city leaders for millions of tourism tax dollars to pay for stadium upgrades and other soccer facilities. That could include a training facility at the former Eastland Mall site.
The city council is expected to consider Tepper's request this month.