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Charlotte remains on track to be 30th Major League Soccer franchise

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper and president Tom Glick attended the MLS Board of Governors meeting Thursday in New York.

Liverpool fans cheer on their team on Sunday, July 22, 2018 in Charlotte, N.C. during the International Champions Cup at Bank of America Stadium. (Mitchell Northam, Pro Soccer USA)

Charlotte, North Carolina will be the city chosen for the 30th team in Major League Soccer, according to reports from several outlets.

The MLS Board of Governors met Thursday morning in New York City. Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper and president Tom Glick both attended the meeting. The league has not yet made an official expansion announcement and a league spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

WBTV News, WSOC-TV and the Charlotte Business Journal were among the local outlets to report MLS will come to the city, as did Front Office Sport.

“We’ve had a good day today,” Glick told WCNC in New York on Thursday. “We’ve come to New York to meet with Major League Soccer, the commissioner, their executives, the owners of all the other clubs – continuing to work to try to bring a Major League Soccer club to the Carolinas based in Charlotte. I think we’ve had a good day today. We’re encouraged by that. Ultimately, we’ll follow the process that they’ve laid out and we’ll keep working on it. We’re convinced that it will be successful and I think we’re convincing them the same.

“Charlotte and the Carolinas love soccer… And there’s a lot of evidence of that.”

After the meeting, MLS commissioner Don Garber said the league is in “very, very advanced discussion” with Charlotte, but “no formal approval was granted” Thursday. Garber did not identify a timeline for when that approval might come, but said there was a “great level of support” for Tepper when he entered the room.

Tepper is a billionaire hedge-fund manager who has been pushing for Charlotte to get an MLS expansion franchise for more than a year. The 62-year-old Pittsburgh, Pa., native bought the NFL’s Carolina Panthers from Jerry Richardson in May 2018.

Garber visited the city in August and met with Tepper, the city’s mayor and others.

Tepper wants the city of Charlotte to contribute “a substantial amount of funding” to help land the MLS team, according to a Dec. 4 story from the Charlotte Observer. Those funds would go toward upgrades to Bank of America Stadium, a 75,000-seat venue built in 1996 for the Panthers. The MLS team would also play there.

James Mitchell, a Charlotte city councilman, told the Observer the city is prepared to offer a much smaller incentive package, of about $100 million. In September, the Observer reported that Tepper may ask the city for up to $250 million.

“Folks don’t need to get ahead of their skis,” Charlotte city councilman Malcolm Graham told the Charlotte Business Journal. “The process needs to play out.”

Mecklenburg County won’t be contributing any funding toward a Charlotte MLS team, according to a statement made by chair of the county commissioners George Dunlap in an Observer story published Thursday. Instead, the county is contributing an additional $5.5 million to rebuild Memorial Stadium, located in the southeast region of downtown Charlotte. The USL Championship team that calls Charlotte home — the Independence — will play there beginning in 2021. The club currently plays in Matthews, which is about 14 miles southeast of Charlotte, in front of an average crowd of 1,750 fans per game.

MLS announced in April it would expand to 30 teams. In November, Garber said Charlotte was at the “front of the line,” ahead of other expansion efforts from Phoenix, Las Vegas and Detroit.

In October, USWNT star Megan Rapinoe told Pro Soccer USA an MLS team “would do fantastic” in Charlotte, after the World Cup champs beat South Korea there in front of an announced crowd of 30,071 fans.

It seems the only hurdle standing between Charlotte and getting the 30th MLS franchise at this point is the approval of funding to retrofit and renovate Bank of America Stadium. That funding could be discussed and approved by the city council during meetings on Dec. 9 or Dec. 16. 

“There has been a lot of speculation surrounding the Major League Soccer Board of Governors meeting and the discussion of the league’s 30th team,” Mayor of Charlotte Vi Lyles said in a statement Thursday. “No city staff nor any elected officials are attending those meetings and any discussion about decisions that may be made at that meeting are premature at this time. If an announcement is to be made, it will happen at the appropriate time.”

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