Charlotte business leaders say they’re ready to welcome MLS at an expanded Memorial Stadium, as recent well-attended friendlies at Bank of America Stadium shows the Queen City can support high-level pro soccer.
The recent friendly between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan attracted 50,177 fans to Bank of America Stadium. And while that may not have been a marquee match up (serious soccer fans will recognize Bayern Munich and Inter Milan; less casual fans may not), it shows some serious interest in pro soccer in the region.
That interest has gained the attention of local business leaders like Charlotte Chamber CEO Bob Morgan, who addressed the issue at a Charlotte Rotary Club luncheon. Charlotte officials and Jim McPhilliamy, the managing partner of the Charlotte Independence (USL), have been working on a plan to overhaul Memorial Stadium, and the current plan calls for a USL-level refurbishment that would allow for future upgrades to accommodate MLS down the road.
That suits Morgan and business leaders just fine. They see MLS soccer as a quality-of-life issue that will keep millennials and trendy companies in the city. Economic development, they say, means creating a cutting-end environment. From the Charlotte Observer:
“Soccer will help us attract more young people (and) it will allow us to attract … those who were born outside of the United States,” Morgan said. “Soccer is but one example of part of a broader culture, one of a city and a region that is forward-thinking, and that is and will continue to attract companies and people.”…
“We aspire to be home to an MLS franchise,” Morgan said. To do that, Morgan said, Charlotte has to work to build adequate facilities, adding that efforts like the $24.8 million renovation of Memorial Stadium are part of that. Charlotte’s currently home to the Charlotte Independence, which is part of the United Soccer League and affiliated with the MLS team the Colorado Rapids.
Another thing the city needs to attract a pro team is youth programming to grow interest in the sport, Morgan said. Efforts are already underway to that effect: This past spring, FC Barcelona said it’s opening a soccer school in Charlotte, the club’s second in the U.S. after Miami.
It’s unlikely Charlotte would be part of the next round of MLS expansion, from 20 to 24. After that, all bets are off.
Image courtesy Charlotte Independence.
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