Charlotte Knights

MLB to Charlotte? For now, city just part of conversation

An ESPN.com story sent the region’s seamheads atwitter Wednesday by mentioning Charlotte among eight expansion possibilities for a Major League Baseball team. The writer apparently hasn’t heard about the $55 million uptown stadium the Charlotte Knights built last year can’t be retrofitted to accommodate major-league specifications.
An ESPN.com story sent the region’s seamheads atwitter Wednesday by mentioning Charlotte among eight expansion possibilities for a Major League Baseball team. The writer apparently hasn’t heard about the $55 million uptown stadium the Charlotte Knights built last year can’t be retrofitted to accommodate major-league specifications. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Besides bulldozing its way to the title of Apartment Capital of the South, Charlotte is quickly becoming a destination city for anyone looking to plop down a sports franchise or stage a major athletic event.

Charlotte will host the NBA All-Star Game and PGA Championship in 2017, bringing the world’s best basketball players and golfers to town, as well as Tiger Woods.

The city is bidding to host the College Football Championship in 2019 or 2020, the NCAA tournament will return in 2018, and we could be trading up from the minor-league Charlotte Independence to Major League Soccer down the road.

An ESPN.com story sent the region’s seamheads atwitter Wednesday by mentioning Charlotte among eight expansion possibilities for a Major League Baseball team.

The writer apparently hasn’t heard the $55 million stadium the Charlotte Knights built last year can’t be retrofitted to accommodate major-league specifications.

The Knights have led minor-league baseball in attendance since opening the gates of 10,200-seat BB&T BallPark, which was built with the help of $15 million in public money.

The Knights are averaging 9,479 fans this season, which is only about 5,000 fewer than what the Tampa Bay Rays are drawing. Of course, the Rays play their home games at Tropicana Field, a dreary domed facility where the catwalks are in play.

Could Charlotte support a major-league franchise?

Any team that would consider relocating here would be wise to follow the Panthers’ plan of marketing to the Carolinas to draw fans from Raleigh, Asheville, Greensboro and Columbia.

But the Panthers only have to sell tickets to 10 home games a year. The Major League Baseball schedule features 81 home dates, including a bunch on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Panthers only have to sell tickets to 10 home games a year. The major league baseball schedule features 81 home dates, including a bunch on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Monday Night Football is an event in the NFL. Monday night games in the other leagues are a chore. Ask the Hornets.

The Panthers have gussied up their stadium the past two seasons, getting an $87.5 million assist from the city. They put in new escalators, videoboards and a sound system last year, and upgraded their suites this offseason.

What they didn’t add was a dome, which is a prerequisite if you’re interested in hosting a Super Bowl in a cold-weather city – unless you’re New York.

Charlotte isn’t Fargo, N.D But its average high for late-January/early-February is 50 degrees, close to the cutoff the NFL uses in weighing Super Bowl bids from teams with outdoor stadiums. Charlotte’s average low in late January is 30, which is well below the NFL’s temperature guidelines.

NFL owners granted New York/New Jersey a weather waiver to host the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Related: The league’s headquarters are in New York, and the Jets and Giants spent $1.6 billion in private money to build MetLife Stadium.

Will Webb, executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, is leading the effort to bring the College Football Championship here. Webb believes the NFL could play its championship in Charlotte, as well.

“Why not Charlotte?” Webb asked.

The argument against Charlotte hosting a Super Bowl used to be the city didn’t have enough hotel rooms.

But that’s no longer the case. According to the Charlotte Sports Foundation, there are 4,200 rooms in “center city” and 31,000 in Mecklenburg County.

That’s well within the NFL guidelines of host sites having 30,000 rooms within a 90-minute drive.

If the Panthers had any interest in bidding on a Super Bowl – and they’ve given no indication they do – the snag likely would be the weather.

If the Panthers had any interest in bidding on a Super Bowl – and they’ve given no indication they do – the snag likely would be the weather.

The Atlanta Falcons are building a $1.4 billion stadium with a retractable roof. The downtown facility is scheduled to open in 2017, and Atlanta is among four cities bidding to host the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020.

Panthers president Danny Morrison was asked about the potential of a Charlotte Super Bowl this week after the team unveiled its updated suites.

“You think about it,” Morrison said. “But we want to put our emphasis right now on making sure our stadium’s first class, which it is, and we’re continuing to make improvements there.”

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has spent a lot of money to give Bank of America Stadium a “stadium in the park” feel, with well-manicured landscaping, shade trees and flower beds.

So the chances of Richardson slapping a roof on his stadium in the park are about as likely as Charlotte getting a MLB team anytime soon.

Deputy city manager Ron Kimble, who was involved in the discussions to use public money on the Knights’ and Panthers’ stadiums, pointed out the city is only in the second year of a 20-year agreement with the Knights.

“Our commitment and loyalties remain there for the foreseeable future,” Kimble said in an email.

Kimble wasn’t trying to throw a wet blanket on the MLB talk. He was being realistic, while supporting all that’s already on Charlotte’s sports plate.

In his late-afternoon email, Kimble said he was headed to Bank of America Stadium for the CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer doubleheader.

It was about an hour before the start of Cuba-Guatemala.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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