|Independence's Charlotte future could include sale, self-relegation|
|Lower division move among the scenarios|
|Published Wednesday, July 21, 2021 8:28 pm|
|FILE PHOTO | TROY HULL|
|The Charlotte Independence name will be around, founder and co-owner Jim McPhillamy says, but its future league affiliation is uncertain pending a sale or self-relegation.|
The Charlotte Independence are here to stay. In what form is to be determined.
The USL Championship side is in the process of selling primary owner Dan DiMicco’s stake in the club, a process which was announced in March. The retired Nucor CEO and trade advisor on former president Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign received backlash for racist and xenophobic tweets last summer, alienating longtime supporters group Jack’s Militia. A #DiMiccoOut banner was visible from a parking garage at the club’s inaugural match at American Legion Memorial Stadium on July 7.
DiMicco, McPhilliamy, who also serves as managing partner, and Rob Engel, a Wells Fargo Securities executive, accounted for 75% of the club’s ownership as of the March announcement.
The league declined to comment on the sale.
Charlotte’s ownership group has poured millions into the club, including $2.3 million to build and tear down a temporary stadium at Ramblewood Park. They played at college stadiums (Charlotte 49ers’ Transamerica Field and Winthrop’s Eagle Field) and Mecklenburg County facilities (Ramblewood, Sportsplex at Matthews and Memorial Stadium).
Nearly seven years since the announcement of the club in Uptown, McPhilliamy is not throwing the towel in on the club he founded. Selling the USL Championship rights and then purchasing rights to a League One club or self-relegating to League One are also options. McPhilliamy said they have been in discussions with multiple cities.
“I still stand by, one way or another, we'll still have the Charlotte Independence in town,” he said. “I just don't know if that will be Charlotte Independence [in USL] Championship or Charlotte Independence [in USL] League One.”
McPhilliamy began looking into the transition in 2019 when Charlotte was announced as the latest Major League Soccer expansion market. Charlotte FC owner David Tepper, who also owns the Carolina Panthers, paid $325 million for the club. McPhilliamy paid $750,000 in 2014 for a USL Championship side. Today, a League One team kicking off in 2022 costs $5 million and a Championship side costs $14 million.
Charlotte FC kicks off in 2022 and the Independence currently have two players on loan from the MLS side.
“It was December 2019 when the MLS expansion team was announced,” McPhilliamy said. “I've been working on it ever since.”
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the process.
“I've been trying to get it done literally that whole time,” McPhilliamy said. “It's just hard to get done.”
Last month, MLS announced its intention to launch a third-division league in 2022, and Charlotte FC President Nick Kelly said they intend to launch a lower-level affiliate in 2023 in another market. MLS teams do have USL Championship or League One affiliates, such as New York Red Bulls II (Championship) and Inter Miami II (League One). McPhilliamy hoped the Independence would be acquired by Charlotte FC, but that did not happen.
“As soon as MLS came to town, there was some hope, on my side, that there could be something similar to what happened in Nashville or what happened in Sacramento where you were acquired by the mothership,” McPhilliamy said. “That didn't happen.”
McPhilliamy said he believes a USL Championship team has more value to the community in a city that does not have MLS.
“I just don't know that a USL championship team and an MLS team complement each other in the market,” he said. “MLS is the bigger ship. We do have a good working relationship with those guys right now. I think the value of my asset is worth more in a city that doesn't have MLS.”
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