‘Front of the line’ on pro soccer bid: Here’s what we know about Charlotte’s chances

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said Friday that Charlotte has done a lot of work to move their bid for the league’s 30th team to the “front of the line.”

But he said an announcement likely won’t come for another few months.

Garber praised Panthers owner David Tepper’s involvement at the annual State of the League on Friday in Seattle, ahead of the weekend’s MLS Cup match.

Tepper has been pushing for an MLS expansion team after the league announced in April it would expand to 30 teams.

Charlotte is competing with Las Vegas and Phoenix, Ariz. for the 30th team spot, Garber said.

St. Louis and Sacramento, Calif., were selected this year as the 28th and 29th MLS teams. Both paid an expansion fee of $200 million, a fee that has increased steadily in recent years. MLS has not yet announced what the expansion fee would be for the 30th team.

Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis, said that fee could rise to $250 million for the 30th team.

MLS had 24 teams competing in 2019. Three other teams are expected to begin competing in the next two years.

MLS officials had visited Charlotte before the Friday State of the League briefing. Officials reviewed operations at Bank of America Stadium, Panthers President Tom Glick told the Observer in September.

Charlotte has all three factors MLS looks for in an expansion area, Rishe said: an owner with money to spend; a good facility; and fan and corporate enthusiasm for the sport.

Charlotte stadium

The stadium had been one of the items viewed as a holdup in Charlotte’s bid for an MLS team. The Panthers’ venue opened in 1996 and is one of the NFL’s oldest stadiums, the Observer reported in September.

But Rishe said the stadium’s location would be a big advantage for the city’s MLS bid.

“The saving grace is that the stadium is located where it’s located, and that’s in the urban core,” he said.

In September, sources told the Observer that city officials spoke with city council members in a closed meeting and said Tepper may ask the city of Charlotte for up to $215 million toward stadium renovations and other MLS-expansion costs.

MLS prefers to host its teams in soccer-specific stadiums. But Panthers executives have made it a priority to expand the types of events held in the stadium beyond football games.

In a September press conference, Panthers executives announced that Billy Joel will be performing at Bank of America Stadium in 2020 — the first concert there in almost eight years.

“We have been determined over the last several months to add programming to Bank of America Stadium — more events for our city, for our community, and for our region,” Glick said at the time. “Live music has been high on our list.”

Garber said Friday that Seattle’s success with Seattle Sounders FC shows a team can thrive in a football stadium. The Seattle team plays in CenturyLink Field, home field to the Seattle Seahawks.

”It starts with the stadium location and with who owns the stadium,” he said.

But Charlotte would need to prove Bank of America stadium could be soccer- friendly, Garber said. That includes facilities for soccer players, seating and the right set-up for cameras.

An MLS team would bring attention to the Charlotte area and would be a perk for companies looking to recruit younger workers, Rishe said.

”The more amenities you can have in your community — it’s a great recruiting tool,” he said.

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Hannah Smoot covers business in Charlotte, focusing on aviation and health care. She previously covered money and power at The Rock Hill Herald in South Carolina. She is a lifelong North Carolinian and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.