The Carolina Panthers are planning focus groups next week on a potential Charlotte MLS club, indicating that expansion could be on owner David Tepper‘s radar.
Last summer, Tepper completed his purchase of the NFL’s Panthers from Jerry Richardson. Ever since he took over ownership, there have been questions about his long-term plans for the organization. While he has previously indicated some interest in bringing an MLS squad to Charlotte and making it part of the Panthers’ long-term facility plans, that has not translated into a full-blown public campaign for an expansion team.
MLS does appear to still be on the organization’s radar, however, as the Panthers are working with the local Charlotte Soccer Academy to conduct two MLS-related focus groups on February 6. More from The Charlotte Post:
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper made his interest in an expansion team known prior to officially purchasing the NFL franchise in July. Two weeks after a Jan. 15 closed-door meeting with Charlotte media, the Panthers put out a call through Charlotte Soccer Academy for two focus groups on Feb. 6. Each session will last approximately 90 minutes, and RSVP capacity has been filled.
“It’s the fastest-growing sport in the country,” said Charlotte Soccer Academy Executive Director Brad Wylde. “There are more kids between the ages of 6-16 who are playing soccer now than any other sport in the country. It would be a huge opportunity to bring Major League Soccer here, just in terms of the chance for players to come in for a club and look onwards and upwards.”
Hiring former soccer executive Tom Glick as Panthers president last September indicated Tepper meant business about an MLS franchise. Glick spent six years with City Football Group, which included extensive involvement with 2018 English Premier League champion Manchester City. His previous employer also owns MLS’s New York City FC, which Glick helped launch in 2015 as interim president. CFG owns six top-division clubs in England, the United States, Australia, Spain, Japan and Uruguay.
Tepper said Panthers officials are engaged in ongoing discussions with MLS about expanding to Charlotte, as previously reported by The Post. The league’s expansion plan includes Miami and Nashville in 2020, Austin, Texas in 2021, and a 28th franchise a year later.
At the moment, there are still numerous questions regarding the Panthers’ long-term facility plan and how that could factor into any MLS pursuit. The more immediate focus for Tepper and the organization appears to be on building a new training complex and team headquarters, while completing some modest upgrades to Bank of America Stadium. Down the road, the Panthers will likely decide whether to make a significant renovation to Bank of America Stadium or replace it with a new stadium. Perhaps MLS fits into a renovation plan, or Tepper pursues an Atlanta-style model that calls for MLS and NFL squads under the same ownership playing at a fixed or retractable-roof stadium.
There are also still plenty of uncertainties surrounding MLS expansion. The league has previously maintained that expansion will stop at 28 teams, but the sudden emergence of Austin as an expansion club with a few intriguing options left on the table might make 30 more feasible. Charlotte was previously the subject of an MLS expansion pitch led by Speedway Motorsports president and CEO Marcus Smith, but it collapsed in 2017 because local officials pushed back against a funding model for a new stadium that called for some public funds.
Image of Bank of America Stadium courtesy Carolina Panthers.