Major League Soccer’s expansion blitz has continued with the announcement of Charlotte joining the league as its 30th team, with a plan to begin play in two years at Bank of America Stadium.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber made the announcement with Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, who will own the MLS franchise, and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. Reports have the expansion fee at a record $325 million, more than $100 million what the previous two expansion franchises paid earlier this year. The team will begin play in 2021.
“We are thrilled to welcome Charlotte as Major League Soccer’s 30th club,” said Garber. “During the last two decades, Charlotte has experienced enormous energy and growth, which matches soccer’s explosive rise in popularity in the United States. We are pleased to add David Tepper to our ownership group and look forward to working with him and his entire organization to launch Major League Soccer in the Carolinas in 2021.”
Charlotte will be the fourth new team announced by MLS in 2019 alone, joining Austin, St. Louis and Sacramento. The Charlotte City Council pledged $110 million in hospitality funds to secure the bid last week.
After Tepper bought the Carolina Panthers in May 2018 from founding owner Jerry Richardson for $2.2 billion, he immediately spoke of bringing pro soccer to the Charlotte region. Tepper hired Tom Glick, who previously worked for English Premier League heavyweight Manchester City, as Panthers team president earlier this year.
“The awarding of an expansion team for Charlotte by Major League Soccer is a proud moment and significant for Charlotte and everyone in our community,” said Tepper. “I’ve made clear for a long time that I have two goals as a team owner: sustained winning on the field and making a difference in the community. These will be our goals with Charlotte’s MLS team, and the work begins today.”
The plan would be for the new team to play at Bank of America Stadium, which holds 75,000 for Panthers games and is nearly three times the size of many MLS stadiums. Bank of America Stadium has hosted at least one International Champions Cup match four of the past five years, and has committed to hosting the ICC through 2024. Attendance for this summer’s game between Arsenal of England and Fiorentina of Italy was 34,902, far below the previous figures of over 54,000.
North Carolina has multiple soccer teams in different professional levels, including the Charlotte Independence (USL Championship), Charlotte Eagles (USL League Two) and National Women’s Soccer League two-time defending champions North Carolina Courage. The University of North Carolina women’s soccer program has 21 titles and regarded as one of the historic dynasties in collegiate sports.
FC Cincinnati started play this past season as the league’s 24th team, with Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF starting play in 2020. Austin FC will begin in 2021, with St. Louis and Sacramento scheduled to begin in 2022. Major League Soccer has added 20 teams since 2005; when MLS expanded to 12 teams from 10 in 2005 with the addition of Real Salt Lake and now-defunct Chivas USA, those ownership groups paid $10 million the join the league.