Tom Sorensen

Charlotte needs Major League Soccer, so city should help. But only one site makes sense.

Charlotte should help Marcus Smith bring a Major League Soccer franchise to town. Don’t make him ask again.
Charlotte should help Marcus Smith bring a Major League Soccer franchise to town. Don’t make him ask again.

I still like the idea of Major League Soccer in Charlotte. I still like it in the site where Memorial Stadium stands. Money is tight. Money is always tight. It’s a tough call, I acknowledge.

The men pursuing the franchise are Bruton and Marcus Smith of Charlotte and Charlotte Motor Speedway. I tire of reading and hearing that Charlotte shouldn’t help billionaires buy a team. When we offer inducements to businesses to relocate to Charlotte – Chiquita Banana, come on down – are we not helping billionaires or millionaires? Unlike like the banana company, the Smiths will stay.

We’ve helped the Carolina Panthers update Bank of America Stadium. We’ve helped the Charlotte Hornets and Spectrum Arena. We’ve helped the Charlotte Knights and BB&T Ballpark. In doing so, we’ve helped ourselves, as local hotels and restaurants will attest.

I’m not a particularly big fan of soccer. I’m true to the sports with which I grew up, and it had not been invented then (not in Minneapolis).

I’m a fan of Charlotte. Charlotte friends who 10 years ago couldn’t have found London on a map have become fans of the Premiere League, and can show you where teams in Swansea City, Sunderland, Southampton and Kingston upon Hull play.

You want to get Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford going? Tell him defense is overrated. No, don’t. Talk about the Premier League. Watch how animated he gets and how many people around you join the conversation. They will pay to watch soccer.

All those people who live in all those upscale apartment buildings that sprout from Charlotte’s concrete almost daily have money to spend, because if they didn’t they couldn’t afford to live there.

They weren’t in town for the inception of the NFL and NBA. This time they will be. They’ll grow with Charlotte’s newest team. If you want to ensure that soccer succeeds, build the stadium where Memorial Stadium is. Any stadium outside the center city will fail.

Major League Soccer is not a gift. It’s an investment.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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