CHARLOTTE – As David Tepper continues his push to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Charlotte, he gained a high-profile endorsement for a team in the Queen City last week.
Bank of America Stadium hosted the U.S. women’s national team on their World Cup victory tour Thursday, and the Americans beat South Korea in front of an announced crowd of 30,071 fans. While that’s less than half of the stadium’s capacity, it was still the largest-ever crowd to watch the USWNT in the state of North Carolina.
The lower bowl was filled and those fans were loud and rowdy — on a 90-degree night, no less.
And the players on the national team took notice.
“It was phenomenal. I mean, 30,000-plus is so good,” star forward Megan Rapinoe told Pro Soccer USA after the game. “I think that if a team was here, MLS or NWSL – probably in a smaller stadium than this one – it would do fantastic.”
Center back Abby Dahlkemper said both the atmosphere and playing surface at the stadium were “amazing.”
Midfielder Allie Long didn’t know what to expect on a hot midweek night. “But it was lively,” Long said. “The game got a little slow at times and I feel like [the crowd] kind of gave it energy to it.”
Tepper, a billionaire hedge-fund manager, has been pushing for Charlotte to get an MLS expansion franchise for more than a year. The 62-year-old Pittsburgh native bought the NFL’s Carolina Panthers from Jerry Richardson in May 2018.
MLS commissioner Don Garber visited the city in August and met with Tepper, the city’s mayor and others, according to the Charlotte Business Journal. Tepper may ask the city for “up to $215 million” for upgrades to Bank of America Stadium and “other costs associated with” acquiring an MLS team, per a Sept. 24 story in the Charlotte Observer. City officials told the council that MLS could award the city an expansion franchise “within weeks,” the Observer reported.
MLS awarded St. Louis its 28th expansion slot earlier this year, and league spokesman Dan Courtemanche told the Charlotte Agenda MLS is in “advanced discussions” with Sacramento for expansion slot No. 29.
While Charlotte doesn’t have an MLS team, it has hosted several high-profile soccer matches within the past few years. A Gold Cup doubleheader featuring the men’s national teams of Mexico, Canada, Martinique and Cuba drew an announced crowd of 59,283 fans to Bank of America Stadium in June. A month later, 34,902 fans showed up for an International Champions Cup friendly between Arsenal and Fiorentina. Last summer, 55,447 fans came to the stadium to see Borussia Dortmund and U.S. men’s national team star Christian Pulisic top Liverpool.
In July, Relevent Sports Group announced a five-year deal to keep bringing ICC games to Charlotte.
If Charlotte were to get an MLS team and host its games at Bank of America Stadium, it would join Atlanta United, the Seattle Sounders and the New England Revolution as clubs playing in NFL stadiums. Nashville SC, entering the league in 2020, will play at least its first season at the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
Charlotte already has a men’s pro soccer club in the USL Championship’s Independence, but they play about 14 miles southeast of the city’s downtown in Matthews. Out of 36 clubs, the Independence are 30th in attendance in the Championship this season, drawing an average of 1,762 fans per-game, according to Soccer Stadium Digest.
However, the Independence have plans to move into the city in 2021, when renovations costing $32 million to the American Legion Memorial Coliseum – located on downtown Charlotte’s southeast side – are complete. The stadium will seat around 10,500 fans.
About two hours north in Cary, the USL Championship’s North Carolina FC draws 3,982 fans per-game this season, which ranks 18th in the league. The NWSL team that plays in the same stadium – the North Carolina Courage – averages 5,573 fans per-game this season. Both teams are owned by Steve Malik, who has previously pursued an MLS team for nearby Raleigh and is currently trying to build a 20,000-seat stadium in the city’s downtown area.
Rapinoe was in Charlotte earlier this summer for the ICC match between Arsenal and Fiorentina. Before the game, she said Charlotte was “quickly becoming one of the premier sports cities” in this country and that launching an MLS team to the Queen City would be “pretty dope.” In her second visit to the city in 2019, she didn’t back off those statements.
“I think it seems like it kind of has the right culture and the city is kind of growing for it,” Rapinoe said of Charlotte. “Hopefully they get one.”