Charlotte MLS Expansion Discussions Advancing

Bank of America Stadium

MLS officials are advancing discussions about a potential Charlotte MLS expansion team, as league officials prepare for serious negotiations with Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper.

Tepper has been spearheading the effort to make Charlotte the home of MLS’s 30th team, envisioning a successful shared MLS/NFL facility situation that emulates markets like Atlanta and Seattle. MLS commissioner Don Garber had praised the bid recently, and on Thursday revealed that the league’s Board of Governors has given the go-ahead for the MLS expansion committee to engage in final negotiations with Tepper.

That move does not finalize an expansion team in Charlotte, but it does allow the league and Tepper to enter into discussions that could result in the market landing a club. As with any negotiation, there will be issues for the two sides to resolve, with the facility being a major sticking point. Garber does not seem to believe that the Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium is suited for an MLS club as-is, and emphasizes that upgrades are going to be a focal point in the discussions. More from the Charlotte Observer:

Garber added, “We believe (Charlotte is) a growing city on the rise, and one that’s got so much opportunity for us to be able to continue to expand our league.” He cautioned, however, that “we’ve got issues that need to get resolved as it related to (Bank of America) stadium.”

Tepper has said the stadium will need renovations, including outfitting for soccer camera angles, a center tunnel and two new locker rooms, before it is ready to be home to a pro soccer team. The stadium opened in 1996 and is one of the NFL’s oldest.

Determining how much public money would be used to fix the stadium issues also has yet to be sorted out.

An area that has to be resolved is how Bank of America Stadium upgrades could be funded. It has been anticipated that the City of Charlotte could partner on financing renovations, with funds derived from hospitality and tourism taxes potentially in play. However, the Charlotte City Council has not released exact details on what the city could contribute, and there does not seem to be a consensus yet among elected leaders. From the Observer:

For instance, James Mitchell, an at-large council member, said Charlotte is prepared to offer about $100 million, funded by revenue from hospitality and tourism taxes. But Julie Eiselt, the mayor pro tem, said that council members have not yet talked about specific funding levels.

City council members previously told the Observer they’d been expecting to prepare an incentive package tied to MLS expansion fees and Bank of America Stadium upgrades by the end of December.

But with only two meetings remaining this year — on Dec. 9 and 16 — it’s unclear whether they will be able to finish a deal with Tepper by that target date.

MLS has not released a timeline for when it could award the 30th team. Nevertheless, Tepper has certainly put the bid in a good position to bring the league’s next expansion team to Charlotte and will now have to push it across the finish line.

It would not be surprising to eventually see MLS expand to 32 teams. Las Vegas and Phoenix remain in the mix as strong options, and there some other bids that have the potential to rise as well. MLS has awarded its 28th and 29th teams to St. Louis and Sacramento, with both clubs set to launch in 2022.

Image of Bank of America Stadium courtesy Carolina Panthers. 

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