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Stadium deal helps lure Manchester City vs. Liverpool match

By Steve Harrison and Steve Lyttle
sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium will host an August soccer match between two of the top teams from the English Premier League, which will be one of the first benefits of the city’s agreement to help renovate the football stadium, according to an official with the city.

Manchester City will play Liverpool in Charlotte as part of an eight-team Champions Cup that will be played July 26-Aug. 4 around the U.S.

An official announcement is expected Tuesday in Miami.

Tournament organizers will be able to use the stadium rent-free, saving the organizers $250,000 and making Charlotte a more attractive place to bring the game.

When the City Council voted last year to give the Carolina Panthers $87.5 million for stadium renovations, the team agreed to provide four rent-free dates a year for 10 years. The Panthers can still charge for other costs, including security and cleanup.

The city and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority are trying to find sports events, concerts and other events in need of tens of thousands of seats.

The city and CRVA hope such mega-events will bring visitors to Charlotte, filling hotel rooms and restaurants.

Soccer’s popularity is expanding in the U.S., and city officials have been focused on trying to land a match between top teams.

“It’s a wonderful coup for Charlotte,” said Kevin Langan, head coach of UNC Charlotte’s men’s soccer team. “Charlotte and North Carolina have been among the country’s top spots for soccer for a long time. This is proof of that. It shows what kind of pull this city has to bring in a game like this.”

Some in the city are also trying to land an expansion team in Major League Soccer, the country’s top pro soccer league.

Pro lacrosse executive Jim McPhilliamy said in January that he hopes to bring an MLS franchise to the city by 2020. As an intermediate step, he is leading a group to buy the franchise rights of the United Soccer Leagues Pro’s Charlotte Eagles. He intends to put the new team at Memorial Stadium for the 2015 season.

“We are going to compete hard for expansion,” said McPhilliamy, president of the Major League Lacrosse’s Charlotte Hounds.

Manchester City, one of the wealthiest soccer clubs in the world, is currently second in the Premier League. Liverpool is in fourth place of the league’s 20 teams.

Liverpool is a storied name in world soccer, having won 18 English championships, second only to Manchester United’s 20. Liverpool features Luis Suarez, the league’s top scorer.

But Manchester City has star players in Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Manchester City won the Premier League in 2012 and finished second to rival Manchester United last year.

The match in Charlotte would come less than a month after the finals of the World Cup, the world’s tournament of top soccer-playing nations.

According to multiple published reports, this year’s International Champions Cup will feature three teams from England (Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool), one from Spain (Real Madrid), three from Italy (AC Milan, Inter Milan and AS Roma) and Greek powerhouse Olympiakos.

The tournament gives the teams a chance to complete preseason training, as the European club leagues begin their seasons in mid-August.

Last year’s inaugural International Champions Cup drew an average of 42,000 fans at stadiums across the United States. Real Madrid beat Chelsea 3-1 in the finals.

According to reports, this year’s games will be played July 26 at Phoenix, Denver and Chicago; July 27 in Pittsburgh; July 29 in Washington, D.C., and Dallas; July 30 in Philadelphia and New York; Aug. 1 in New York; Aug. 2 in Hartford, Conn., Ann Arbor, Mich., and Charlotte; and the semifinals and finals Aug. 3 and 4 in Miami.

As part of the agreement between the city and the Panthers, the Belk Bowl in December also gets a rent-free date at the stadium.

The city’s four other free dates under the agreement were supposed to begin in January and run through June.

But the Panthers recently started major construction on the stadium after making the playoffs, rendering the stadium unusable until July. Team president Danny Morrison has said the city will be able to keep the unused rent-free dates and use them in the future.

Charlotte Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble declined to comment on whether the city will be hosting the two soccer clubs.

He said, however, that the “Panthers have been very willing to work with us about rent-free dates this first year because of the extent of renovations at the stadium from now through June 30.”

Bank of America Stadium has hosted high-level soccer before, including two games in the 2011 Gold Cup, between national teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Staff writer David Scott contributed

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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