It is official: Major League Soccer will be expanding into Charlotte. And while there are plenty of plates to spin before 2021, the market is there for this to be a wildly successful MLS organisation.
Commissioner Don Garber wants to expand Major League Soccer. He has made that goal quite clear for some time, and with the latest expansion team paying $325 million to enter the league, I can think of 325 million reasons why Garber is keen to expand.
That latest expansion team was confirmed on Tuesday morning. After heavily hinting that the announcement was in the pipeline last week, Garber confirmed that MLS would be coming to Charlotte in 2021.
The bid, led by Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, was accepted this week and will be the 30th team in MLS. They will play in the Bank of America Stadium alongside Tepper’s Panthers, which was the one admitted sticking point for Garber previously.
How successful it will be is impossible to say at this point, of course. Any would be foolish to suggest that they know, either way. But there is certainly all the ingredients for a successful expansion into Charlotte, on and off the pitch. Tepper is an astute businessman and owner, there is an eagerness to build a competitive, winning team on the pitch, and, most importantly, Charlotte is a major market that soccer is yet to tap into.
Garber himself hinted at this high-potential market in the announcement. In a statement, the MLS Commissioner said:
"“We are thrilled to welcome Charlotte as Major League Soccer’s 30th club. 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.”"
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What has been quite clear in recently accepted expansion bids is that Garber is keen to exploit strong markets. Austin, Cincinnati, Sacramento and St. Louis all either feature untapped markets that soccer could exploit or already possessed teams that were attracting serious crowds that could translate to a major market share in MLS. And Charlotte is no different.
Raleigh proves that soccer is already a popular sport in the North Carolina. North Carolina FC are a professional team in USL that draw decent attendances north of 4,000 on average, which ranks 18th in USL, while the North Carolina Courage are the NWSL champions and the dominant women’s team in American soccer — and almost in world soccer, bar perhaps Lyon.
Put this love for the sport in a major city like Charlotte, and you can see what MLS, Garber and Tepper have in mind. The potential for success is massive. And looking at the most successful teams in MLS at present, it is those who command the largest market — the LA clubs, Seattle and Portland, Atlanta and Toronto.
Will expansion into Charlotte be a smart decision or not? It remains to be seen. But make no mistake, the market is there to flourish. And that should make MLS headquarter confident in Charlotte’s ability to produce a genuine and growing team.