Charlotte MLS Expansion Team Approved for 2021 Launch

Don Garber and David Tepper Charlotte MLS expansion announcement

An increasingly inevitable move has become official, as a Charlotte MLS expansion team was announced Tuesday for a 2021 launch, with a bid led by David Tepper securing the club.

Since purchasing the NFL’s Carolina Panthers in 2018, Tepper has made the obtainment of an MLS expansion club one of his primary goals. His push helped Charlotte–where a previous attempt by Speedway Motorsports president and CEO Marcus Smith to land a team stalled in 2017–a rising contender for an MLS expansion club, ultimately facilitating Tuesday’s announcement.

The yet-to-be-branded Charlotte MLS team will begin play in 2021, joining the Panthers at an upgraded Bank of America Stadium. Renovations to the stadium are expected to focus on soccer-specific amenities, such as locker rooms and player facilities, as well as what MLS billed in its announcement as “an innovative supporters’ section in the East End” of the venue. The announcement did not include a price tag for the renovations, or how they would be financed.

In its announcement, MLS cited the strength of the market, the downtown location of Bank of America Stadium, and location in the league’s growing Southeast footprint–where Atlanta exists as a natural rival for the upcoming Charlotte team, with Orlando also in place and clubs in Nashville and Miami on tap for 2020. Technically, Charlotte is MLS’s 30th club, though it will actually begin play before expansion teams in St. Louis and Sacramento that were awarded earlier this year. It will be one of two teams to launch in 2021, joining Austin FC.

“We are thrilled to welcome Charlotte as Major League Soccer’s 30th club,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a press statement. “During the last two decades, Charlotte has experienced enormous energy and growth, which matches soccer’s explosive rise in popularity in the United States.  We are pleased to add David Tepper to our ownership group and look forward to working with him and his entire organization to launch Major League Soccer in the Carolinas in 2021.”

“The awarding of an expansion team for Charlotte by Major League Soccer is a proud moment and significant for Charlotte and everyone in our community,” Tepper said in a press statement. “I’ve made clear for a long time that I have two goals as a team owner: sustained winning on the field and making a difference in the community. These will be our goals with Charlotte’s MLS team, and the work begins today.”

Charlotte officials had expressed support for the bid ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, with a letter from mayor Vi Lyles to Garber last month indicating that the city was willing to set aside $110 million in hospitality funds “to help ensure a successful venture over the next many years.” Any contribution from hospitality funds is still subject to Charlotte City Council approval, which has not taken place yet.

“This is a historic day for Charlotte as we add to our list of professional sports franchises,” Lyles said in a press statement. “My thanks to Commissioner Garber and all the MLS owners for their confidence in Charlotte as the site of the league’s 30th franchise. I know our fans are excited and looking forward to embracing their new team at Bank of America Stadium. My thanks also to David Tepper and his leadership team for a partnership that will benefit our entire city. This is a great opportunity for Charlotte to continue to grow and develop around our new MLS team.”

Image of MLS commissioner Don Garber (left) and David Tepper courtesy MLS.

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