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David Tepper ties MLS aspirations to football plan
Panthers owner mulls possibility of second franchise
 
Published Wednesday, July 18, 2018 11:04 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has floated the idea of adding a Major League Soccer franchise to the Charlotte sports market.

David Tepper’s major league ambitions aren’t limited to the NFL.


The new Carolina Panthers owner has made it plain he’s interested in Major League Soccer, too, and has referenced adding a team twice in press conferences when talking about the Panthers. Tepper last week tied soccer to expanding Bank of America Stadium’s role in the community.

“If we do development here, that’s new development that keeps people here – not just on (game) day – and we open up for other things, and I make an investment in MLS, and I bring that in here, and I bring that many more dollars into the community,” he said. “That’s business in the community and that’s more tax dollars generated.”

An MLS bid has been on Charlotte’s wish list since last year when the league opened the window to expanding by four markets. A drive led by Marcus and Bruton Smith of Speedway Motor Sports fell short last year after they failed to get county and city officials to help fund  $175 million soccer-specific facility on the site of Mecklenburg County-owned Memorial Stadium in the Elizabeth neighborhood. Cincinnati and Nashville were granted franchises and are expected to start play by 2020. Another round of expansion is expected next year, which will bring the league to 28 teams.

Charlotte isn’t the only North Carolina market eyeing MLS. North Carolina Football Club, led by entrepreneur Steve Malik, submitted a bid for Raleigh last year. That group proposed a new stadium on state-owned land downtown, but details of the deal weren’t finalized in time for the latest round of expansion. 

Soccer, which has tried to gain a foothold in America’s big-league sports landscape since the old North American Soccer League in the 1970s, has Charlotte’s attention. Tourism and political leaders point to strong attendance of international matches at Bank of America Stadium over the last four years as a barometer of local support for a potential MLS bid in addition to the football, basketball and motorsports.

“When you look at the sports we think have the most potential for growth, I think soccer comes to the top,” Charlotte City Council James Mitchell, said last month on The Post’s Sports Charlotte podcast. “NASCAR is not as popular as it used to be and there are some attendance issues. I think NBA attendance has been pretty steady, the Panthers have shown some increase each year, but soccer has the most potential growth for us. Look at Atlanta United. They’re drawing an average of 44,000 people and I think we can do that, too.”

Mecklenburg commissioners ultimately voted to spend $32 million in upgrades for Memorial as part of a deal to bring the USL Charlotte Independence as a tenant starting in 2021.

Tepper’s soccer aspirations have an advantage in Bank of America Stadium. The 75,000-seat facility is large enough to host MLS, but Tepper’s intimation that development of the Panthers’ practice fields could also result in a soccer facility as well. MLS has said a stadium deal – preferably downtown in an urban center – is critical to a successful bid.

“When you look at it, soccer has done very well in Charlotte,” said Mitchell, who chairs City Council’s Economic Development Committee. “It fits our demographics very well. When you talk about Saturdays, there are so many soccer moms out there all day [while their children are] playing soccer, and then, we’ve used Bank of America Stadium to show everyone that we have this tremendous energy of supporting soccer. I think we are on the radar screen.”

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