Depending on where you live and how you feel about MLS’ rapid expansion in recent years, you may or may not view the news that Charlotte is getting a team as a cause for celebration.
Personally, though, as a North Carolina native and long-time (seven years constitutes an eternity in this city) Charlotte resident, it’s been a fun few months. For a while now* – since approximately the first time billionaire Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper discussed his broader vision for his acquisition — we’ve heard about the Queen City possibly being named an expansion franchise.
*Check out our discussion of this topic on the October 12 edition of the High Press Podcast.
The news was seemingly “unofficially official” as early as last week, and it’s now being widely reported as a done deal. The team here will kick off its inaugural season in ’21, if all goes to plan. In fact, a press conference and celebration will be held next Tuesday in Charlotte – at this point, like it or not, this is absolutely happening.
What’s not to like?
Before I get into my own reaction, I understand why not everyone will share my excitement about this. Obviously, fans in other cities that were bidding, several of which were pushing to land a club since long before Tepper’s bid was launched, are not happy.
The concerns about MLS adding too many teams too fast – we’re talking about a league that featured just 19 clubs as recently as ’14 – are also valid, but worthy of a closer look in a separate post. On that note, this piece by Noah Davis on ESPN is worth a read.
Stadium questions loom large
I’d also be remiss not to mention that at this point, it’s unclear exactly what changes will be made to the Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium, which will be the host of the new team.
The nearby success story of Atlanta United is thanks in large part to a stadium built with soccer in mind, as well as the flexibility that comes with a retractable roof. Upgrades to make BOA a viable soccer venue are coming, but exactly how they manifest themselves will be pivotal.
All that being said, below are three reasons I consider this awesome news for Charlotte sports fans in general, and soccer supporters in particular, and believe MLS made a good choice.
And they don’t include the fact that right now, this news is a welcome diversion from the immediate state of our city’s other pro sports teams.
Tepper is hard to cheer, or bet, against
Since buying the Panthers in ’18, Tepper has been quick to take action to improve the business side of the organization. The details of what he’s done for his NFL team are not worth spelling out here, but he’s proven that he has the deep pockets – the importance of which cannot be overstated – and assertive approach to quickly make things happen as a team owner.
He’s also wasted no time developing a reputation in this city as a likable, down-to-earth figure who just so happens to be worth a reported $11 billion. Expect his charm and ability to connect with fans to go a long way toward getting a lot of people in this city who are unfamiliar with him to buy in to the new soccer team.
There’s a passion for professional soccer here
Fans of the sport have filled Bank of America Stadium for International Champions Cup matches several times in recent years, and international fixtures like the Canada-Cuba and Mexico-Martinique Gold Cup games on June 23 have also drawn massive crowds. I was particularly impressed by the atmosphere I saw firsthand this summer, though I do realize many of those fans came a long way to see El Tri that night.
Still, Bank of America would not consistently land quality ICC match-ups if organizers did not like what they’ve seen from the crowds here for those matches.
And anyone who’s gone out to bars for USMNT – back when they, you know, played in World Cups – or USWNT matches for their big games this summer can also attest to the passion so many people in Charlotte have for this sport. For indisputable proof, or something like that, below is a quick glimpse of one watch party of the USWNT’s win over the Netherlands in the Women’s World Cup final this summer:
— Queen City Outlaws (@QCOutlaws) July 7, 2019
The strong youth soccer scene will be beneficial
As someone with limited connections to the Charlotte youth soccer world – or youth soccer in general – I’ll admit to being a bit out of my depth on this point. But I don’t imagine there’s much disagreement that this is a strong area for the sport at the grassroots level.
If the Charlotte MLS team can tap into all the kids playing the sport, and their parents, it will have a strong foothold with a key demographic right away. This is one of the many areas of the business where Atlanta United has established a blueprint worth following, as they have reaped the benefits of their engagement with that market in their own backyard. My source for that last bit? Atlanta resident and HPS siterunner Chops.