|Major League Soccer pushes back Charlotte's debut to 2022|
|COVID-19 forces delay of franchise's kickoff|
|Published Friday, July 17, 2020 5:00 pm|
|PHOTO | TROY HULL|
|Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber (center) announced the delay of Charlotte's expansion team to 2022 in order to give the MLS's new franchises more time to solidify business operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to Charlotte, expansion clubs in St. Louis and Sacramento will be pushed back to 2023 and 2022, respectively.|
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper paid a record $325 million franchise fee for the league’s 30th club with the intention of kicking off in 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the inaugural season to 2022. The news comes following the announcement of the club’s inaugural singing, midfielder Sergio Ruiz, and days before the virtual branding reveal on July 22.
The decision to delay the inaugural season came from league commissioner Don Garber and the MLS expansion committee, giving the club more time to launch.
“We have always taken a thoughtful and strategic approach to our expansion planning and have delivered successful launches for every new club,” Garber said in a statement. “It is important for each club to take the necessary time to launch their inaugural MLS seasons the way their fans and communities deserve. With the extra year to make up for what has been a challenging 2020, these teams will be well-positioned for their debuts and for long-term success.”
The delay impacts fellow expansion sides St. Louis and Sacramento as well. They will begin in 2023 instead of 2022. Another expansion club, Austin FC, remains on schedule for 2021.
“After a lot of discussion with Major League Soccer, we are confident it is in the best interest of our club and our supporters to take additional time to ensure a successful inaugural season,” Tepper Sports & Entertainment President Tom Glick said. “When we were awarded the team in December, we knew we were on an extremely tight timeline to begin play in 2021, but we were ready to meet that challenge. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted several of our essential initiatives. We have made huge progress in the last few months but having additional time to build is important.”
Outside of the postponed season for the first team, the club’s youth academy will begin training in July. The club also intends to sign players during the transfer window this summer. For supporters with inaugural season ticket deposits, seat selection in the bowl at Bank of America Stadium will take place in the fall.
“We are committed to bringing Major League Soccer to our city and region,” Tepper said. “The party’s still on! We are just delaying it a bit to ensure we have the best experience for our fans when we do start playing.”
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