|MLS OKs expansion by two franchises at $200 million price tag|
|Panthers owner Tepper interested in buying team|
|Published Friday, April 19, 2019 4:42 pm|
|Major League Soccer announced plans to expand by two franchises, bringing its total to 30 teams. Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is interested in buying a team for the Charlotte market, which would cost $200 million, $50 million more than the price of a franchise in 2017.|
Bringing Major League Soccer to Charlotte would come with a higher entry fee.
League commissioner Don Garber confirmed Thursday in Los Angeles after their Board of Governors meeting MLS will expand to 30 teams, with the entry fee for clubs 28 and 29 set at $200 million, $50 million more than the 2017 franchise fee for the 25th team.
At the time of Charlotte’s first bid—2017 under Charlotte Motor Speedway executive Marcus Smith—the league intended to expand to 28 teams, and Los Angeles Football Club had yet to make its debut as the 23rd side, and murmurs about Miami eventually joining the league remained exactly that. Two years later, teams 25-27 are in place, with a 28th team expected to join in 2022. Inter Miami and Nashville SC begin play in 2020. Austin FC will join in 2021.
MLS has expanded by 17 teams since 2005 to become the largest top-tier soccer league in the world.
“Professional soccer at all levels is thriving in the United States and Canada and we believe there are many markets that could support a successful MLS club,” Garber said in a statement. “Expansion during the last 15 years has been enormously successful and a key driver behind the league’s continued rise, and we are pleased that some of the top business and community leaders representing great markets in North America are aggressively pursuing MLS expansion clubs.”
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, who purchased the NFL franchise last year for $2.2 billion, has expressed deep interest in using Bank of America Stadium for other events, including MLS. Unlike Smith’s failed bid, Tepper has a 75,525-seat stadium in Uptown at his disposal. Bank of America Stadium will host Gold Cup matches and International Champions Cup on June 23 and July 20 respectively. Tepper also has a net worth of $11.6 billion.
Charlotte’s 2017 bid would proposed the demolition and refurbishment of the Great Depression-era American Legion Memorial Stadium in Elizabeth just outside Uptown. Mecklenburg County owns the facility, and is about to embark on a two-year renovation project for the site. It will not equal the capacity of Bank of America Stadium.
Thursday’s meeting in Los Angeles included the MLS board authorizing Garber to move forward with expansion conversations in St. Louis and Sacramento. Both markets participated in the 2017 bid process and the latter made the final four, along with Cincinnati, Detroit and Nashville. Cincinnati is in its inaugural MLS season, and Nashville will begin play in 2020. Formal presentations from St. Louis in Sacramento will take place in the second quarter of this year. They will address a final stadium plan, corporate support commitments, layout of their ownership groups, funding plans, fan development, player development layout, as well as an outline for community programs.
Sacramento added Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez to its ownership group earlier this year, and Sacramento City Council unanimously approved a preliminary term sheet at the Railyards site for construction of a new soccer stadium.
“Sacramento has persistently told us for nearly five years that they are built for MLS, and we look forward to continuing discussions with Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez about adding an expansion team to the market,” Garber said. “We know Sacramento has a transformational stadium plan and strong engagement from government leaders. Since Ron and Matt recently became controlling partners in the ownership group, our expansion committee wanted to meet with them and learn more about their plans for the club.”
St. Louis’ ownership group includes Carolyn Kindle Betz, Andy Taylor and Jim Kavanaugh. It would be the first female majority-owned team in MLS.
“St. Louis has a terrific ownership group and a long history of supporting the beautiful game,” Garber said. “During our visit to St. Louis last month, we came away very impressed with the corporate community’s support for a potential expansion team, and we believe the downtown site is the ideal location for a soccer stadium. We know there is still important work that needs to be completed to secure the stadium site before an expansion team could be awarded to St. Louis.”
The league indicated it intends to announce teams No. 28 and 29 in the coming months. However, it did not disclose how much the 30th club must pay to enter the league, nor did they share a timeline for its addition. They did stress the three components vital for expansion, which have not wavered since Charlotte’s last bid:
- Committed local ownership group that has a passion for soccer, a deep belief in Major League Soccer and the resources to invest in the infrastructure to build the sport in their respective market.
- History of strong fan support for soccer and other sporting events, is located in a desirable geographic location and is attractive to corporate sponsors and television partners.
- Comprehensive stadium plan that ensures the club will have a proper home for their fans and players while also serving as a destination for the sport in the community.
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