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New home leads to a surge in attendance for minor league soccer team

Phase 2 of Matthews Sportsplex opens

The Matthews Sportsplex's second phase of construction was unveiled this past Saturday with a Charlotte Independence game. The additional construction added more fields, a championship field with 2,500 spectator seats, walking and cross country tr
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The Matthews Sportsplex's second phase of construction was unveiled this past Saturday with a Charlotte Independence game. The additional construction added more fields, a championship field with 2,500 spectator seats, walking and cross country tr

The Charlotte Independence, a local minor league soccer team, has a new home in Matthews that has helped lead to an increase in ticket sales.

The United Soccer League team is using the Matthews Sportsplex’s new championship stadium for all 12 of its home games this season. The stadium, which seats 2,500, was unveiled earlier this month with a sold-out Independence home game.

Jim McPhilliamy, president and managing partner of the Charlotte Independence, said the move was a no-brainer.

“Once Matthews Sportsplex was available, it was a better venue and it was cheaper to operate,” he said.

The team used to play games at a temporary stadium built in the Ramblewood Soccer Complex off Nations Ford Road.

McPhilliamy said the Matthews stadium is a great environment for the players and for business.

For the first game at the sportsplex, the team sold 2,576 tickets, compared with about 1,400 on average at Ramblewood, McPhilliamy said.

The stadium at the Matthews Sportsplex was part of its second phase of construction, which began in 2015 and finished this month. The construction added four synthetic turf fields, two grass fields, the championship stadium, walking and cross country trails, a playground and restrooms.

“Having a new permanent home will be great for them,” said Preston Buckman, a manager of the sportsplex.

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Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The stadium could also host a variety of high level events such as college conference championships and elite showcase games.

The sportsplex has been open since 2013 and hosted approximately 20 weekend tournaments a year, including football, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and rugby. Buckman said the expansion allows for the number of yearly weekend tournaments to grow.

Tournaments hosted in the first phase of the sportsplex brought in $5,000 to $10,000 per event, with a regional economic impact of $500,000 to $1 million – a number that is expected to double in size due to the second phase’s expansion.

After the end of the Independence’s fall season, the stadium will go back under construction to increase the number of spectator seats to 4,000. Buckman said this increase in seating opens up opportunities to host larger games, like high school state playoffs.

McPhilliamy said he is looking forward to the expansion.

But the sportsplex’s championship stadium is not the only new stadium that might be popping up in Mecklenburg.

Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, submitted a bid in January for a Major League Soccer team in Charlotte. Mecklenburg County has proposed tearing down Memorial Stadium and the Grady Cole Center in Elizabeth to accommodate a soccer stadium, but funding remains an issue.

McPhilliamy said he was a part of discussions with Mecklenburg County to expand Memorial Stadium to a minor league size, but that the county opted to pursue a major league stadium instead.

“There’s certainly a business argument for that and we understand why they did that,” he said.

But McPhilliamy said he has always thought that having Major League Soccer in Charlotte would be great.

“Our vision all along has been to get people out to the game, let them experience it, see how fun it is and what the game’s about – it sort of grows Charlotte’s soccer culture.”

Caroline Metzler: 704-231-5316, @crmetzler

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