Charlotte lands MLS expansion team to start in ’21

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, left, and Charlotte MLS team owner David Tepper announced Tuesday that a team will be coming to Charlotte in 2021. (Nell Redmond / AP Photo)

Charlotte was introduced as the 30th member of Major League Soccer after Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper was awarded an MLS expansion team.

Tepper’s bid, reported by ESPN to be $325 million, topped previous MLS expansion bids by St. Louis and Sacramento — the 28th and 29th MLS franchises — by $125 million.

The Charlotte City Council reportedly voted to authorize $100 million to help Tepper outbid other cities looking to land the expansion team, including Phoenix, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and Raleigh.

The Charlotte franchise will begin play in 2021 and spend at least two years at Bank of America Stadium, sharing the venue with the NFL Panthers.

The league has seen explosive growth, going from 12 teams in 2016 to its current 30.

“This will likely be our last announcement,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

Garber and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles both praised the efforts of Tepper to push this bid through to completion.

“It all started with David,” Garber said. “We wouldn’t be here today without his ambition, his fortitude, his immense faith in MLS and his commitment to this region. He was laser-focused on trying to bring MLS to Charlotte. He really believes in the city. We’re proud to welcome you, David, to the MLS family. We’re proud of everything we’re going to count on you to do to drive the explosive growth of our sport.”

“He came here with a big vision, and he’s followed through on it,” Lyles said.

Garber also praised Lyles and the Charlotte City Council for helping to pave the way for the successful bid.

“It’s hard to have the courage to make those decisions to have days like this happen,” he said.

As recently as this summer, it appeared that Raleigh had the edge on Charlotte as the likely site for any MLS expansion into North Carolina. The city was planning a new downtown stadium, while Charlotte’s council was holding off on any financial support for their bid.

Enter Tepper.

“It was a little bit over a year ago that our discussions really began to heat up,” Garber said. “Two words that defined them were ambition and community, and those words also define MLS. It’s the coming together of one of the fastest-growing and most diverse professional sports leagues in North American and one of North America’s most dynamic and thriving cities.”

Still, there were plenty of cities interested in MLS that could promise diversity a dynamic environment.

Garber listed the three components that helped get Charlotte’s bid “over the finish line.”

“A committed visionary owner who believes in the sport and your city and is deeply committed to investing in the infrastructure in and around the community,” he said. “A public partnership to ensure that the club will be an important part of the landscape, and a club that is embraced by the corporate community.”

Charlotte is home to regional headquarters of several MLS corporate sponsors, including Wells Fargo and Continental Tire, and Allied Financial stepped up and agreed to become a sponsor, helping Charlotte to secure the bid.

“This will bring jobs to the community,” Garber promised. “It will provide international exposure and connective tissue for so many different populations that are driving so much of the energy here in Charlotte.”

With that, Garber presented Tepper with an MLS Charlotte scarf, signifying the granting of a new expansion team.

Tepper asked the crowd at the Mint Museum if they were “ready to party,” promising “one big party all season long.”

Tepper thanked the mayor, saying that a soccer team for her city is “the most expensive present I ever gave a woman in my life. Mayor, Charlotte has a soccer team!”

In discussing his motivation behind the bid, Tepper said that he coached his kids in soccer for nine years, winning plenty of trophies but never getting a win in the postseason tournament to take home the cup.

“I figured I might have to spend a little bit of money to win a different cup,” he said, “so we’re going to try to get the MLS Cup in Charlotte really fast.”

Tepper also called out the MLS team in Atlanta, saying, “Screw that other city. We’re going to have one hell of a rivalry.”

A video of several notable Charlotte personalities, including NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, country singer Chris Lane, rap singer DaBaby, Hornets forward Cody Zeller and past and present Carolina Panthers, including Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffery, helped welcome the MLS team to Charlotte. Former Panthers receiver Steve Smith said, “If you need a backup — or starting — goalie, call your boy,” while current Panthers safety Tre Boston offered to play forward for the team.

“I’ve got my scarf,” Mayor Lyles said. “I’m waiting on my jersey, because we will be all on this.”