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MLS Dec 17, 2019

Major League Soccer announces expansion team in Charlotte, N.C.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Commissioner Don Garber officially announced today that Major League Soccer (MLS) has awarded an expansion team to Charlotte, North Carolina – one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.

MLS’ club for the Carolinas will be owned by Carolina Panthers (NFL) owner David Tepper and begin play in the 2021 season at Bank of America Stadium.

The addition of Charlotte (21st) gives MLS teams in 19 of the top 23 media markets in the country as ranked by Nielsen for 2020. It also increases MLS’ geographic footprint in the Southeast, with current clubs in Atlanta and Orlando, and teams in Miami and Nashville beginning play next season. The four-hour drive between Charlotte and Atlanta will spark an “I-85 Derby.” Charlotte is one of North America’s cities on the rise – its population has nearly doubled in size to 2.6 million people since the year 2000 – and is regarded as a top market for the finance, tech, healthcare and energy sectors

“We are thrilled to welcome Charlotte as Major League Soccer’s 30th club,” said Commissioner Garber. “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.”

With seven million people within a 90-minute drive to the city, Charlotte has become the region’s hub for professional sports. As an illustration, more than 40 percent of ticketholders for Panthers games come from outside Charlotte. Located in the heart of the city and with 30,000 parking spots and easy accessibility via light rail and rapid transit, Bank of America Stadium will serve as the home for the MLS fans of the Carolinas. Before its first MLS game, Charlotte’s team will make extensive renovations and additions to transform Bank of America Stadium for soccer, including world-class locker rooms and facilities for players and an innovative supporters’ section in the East End.

For the last decade, Charlotte has drawn crowds in excess of 60,000 fans for soccer events at Bank of America Stadium — demonstrating the significant demand for soccer in the region. More than 69,000 fans watched Liverpool vs. AC Milan in 2014, and 61,000 attended a Paris St.-Germain-Chelsea game in 2015. A Concacaf Gold Cup doubleheader at Bank of America Stadium in June of 2019 drew nearly 60,000 fans for games featuring Mexico, Canada, Cuba and Martinique. As a result of the demand in Charlotte, the Mexican National Team chose Bank of America Stadium as the site of its kickoff match for its 2020 tour on March 26 , a decade after Mexico played a friendly against Iceland in front of 63,227 fans in Charlotte.

“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,” said Tepper. “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.”

The region is the home of countless collegiate and professional teams, including the Charlotte Independence (USL Championship), Charlotte Eagles (USL League Two) and North Carolina Courage, the two-time defending champions of the National Women’s Soccer League. The University of North Carolina women’s soccer program has been a dynasty, winning an astonishing 21 titles and narrowly missed securing a 22nd title on Dec. 8. On the men’s side, there are multiple top programs in the Carolinas as UNC, Wake Forest, Clemson and Duke have all won NCAA championships and UNC Charlotte, the University of South Carolina and Furman are regular NCAA Tournament participants.

A popular region for youth tournaments, North Carolina last week was the site of the 2019 adidas MLS College Showcase, a three-day event in Raleigh providing the opportunity for technical staffs from every MLS club to scout the top collegiate prospects in the nation. Among the many athletes with Carolina ties to have strong MLS careers are Durham native Ike Opara (reigning MLS Defender of the Year), former longtime MLS and U.S. National Team players Eddie Robinson, Clint Dempsey, Stu Holden, Clyde Simms, Clint Irwin and Logan Pause, and National Soccer Hall of Fame member Eddie Pope, who scored the game-winning goal in the first MLS Cup in 1996.

Away from the soccer field, North Carolina was selected as No. 1 on Forbes’ list of Best States for Business, with the Charlotte Region alone boasting six Fortune 500 and 14 Fortune 1000 headquarters. Charlotte – consistently ranked as one of the best cities in the U.S. to start a business – will generate significant support from the corporate community. Area businesses have already demonstrated their desire to support an MLS team, with Ally Financial stepping up even before today’s announcement. In July, Ally Financial announced an agreement to become the lead sponsor of a Charlotte MLS team, including sponsorship of the club’s jerseys.

“This is a historic day for Charlotte as we add to our list of professional sports franchises,” said Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. “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.”

Charlotte’s club will be MLS’ 30th, capping off a period of strategic expansion as soccer’s popularity has exploded across the U.S. and Canada. Since 2005, 20 teams have joined MLS – an unmatched run for a major professional sports league in this century.

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