We end 2016 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Soccer Stadium Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #9: Charlotte Pushes for the MLS.
Charlotte has managed to catapult itself to the list of MLS expansion contenders, offering a solid market, increasing interest in soccer, and a strong sports scene. It is a city that clearly has the ingredients to make a serious push for the MLS but, as 2016 turns to 2017, some questions remain about whether it will ultimately secure a team.
When it was announced that the MLS was naming Charlotte one of its 10 expansion finalists, it was also revealed who was behind the Queen City’s effort. Bruton Smith and his son Marcus are carrying out the expansion bid, and both are approaching the MLS with solid sports backgrounds. Bruton is a billionaire who founded Speedway Motorsports, where Marcus is currently serving as CEO.
Certainly, their experience makes them suited to enter the competitive field that is MLS expansion bidding, but Charlotte, like any city, has some hurdles to clear in its pursuit. First it is not only one of several markets in the Southeast being considered by the MLS, but also one of two in North Carolina, as Steve Malik is pitching a new stadium in the Raleigh-Durham region.
MLS commissioner Don Garber recently noted the state’s uptick in interest in soccer, but indicated that he look at the situations more closely before determining whether North Carolina can support two teams. The other variable that must be resolved in Charlotte is the stadium.
For much of this year, local officials discussed the possibility of renovating Memorial Stadium. The project was pitched as a possible home to the USL’s Charlotte Independence, and the possibility was raised that the stadium could be expanded if Charlotte lands an MLS franchise.
However, last week, Mecklenburg County officials indicated that the plan is being put on hold as the expansion process plays itself out. As that progresses, it should become clearer about whether or not the Smiths and the MLS consider Memorial Stadium a viable option, or if another project is pursued.
What is clear is that there is a desire among local leaders to enhance Charlotte’s soccer scene. The question is whether that desire can help push the city into the sport’s highest league.
Previously in our Top Ten Stories of 2016 List: