It’s been an eventful six months since Major League Soccer officials announced Charlotte will get an expansion team. But Charlotte is still on track to see its new MLS team start playing next spring.
That’s according to Tom Glick, president of the Carolina Panthers. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has complicated planning. Employees working on Charlotte’s MLS team launch have been doing so remotely for months, just as millions of other Americans have. Stadium upgrades have been delayed. The team should’ve announced a name by now, but they pushed that back, too.
It’s all coming soon, though.
Around the third week of July, Tepper Sports & Entertainment will release the team name, colors, and branding of the new MLS team. Since Panthers owner David Tepper landed a team in December, team employees have surveyed fans and engaged with them on social media about what they’d like to see in a name.
“We’re building a club that should last 100 years or more,” Glick tells the Agenda. “You want to get the fundamentals right. And this is a team for Charlotte, the region, the Carolinas, for soccer fans of all generations. Having their imprint from the very beginning is critical.”
Back in early December, Tepper filed trademarks for a handful of potential MLS team names, including: Charlotte Crown FC, Charlotte Fortune FC, Charlotte Monarchs FC, Carolina Gliders FC, Charlotte FC, Charlotte Athletic FC, Charlotte Town FC, and All Carolina FC. Glick won’t say which name the team is going with, though.
More than 8,000 people have already paid season-ticket deposits, which should convert to more than 20,000 season tickets, Glick says.
He expects another bump in ticket sales after the team announces its new branding. Early this fall, the team will start selecting those fans’ seats at Bank of America Stadium. Also, the 14 new bunker suites currently under construction at the stadium are steadily selling, Glick says, for a price of $300,000 per season.
“By every measure of a Major League Soccer club launch, Charlotte’s fundamentals are really, really healthy,” says Glick, a veteran soccer executive who helped bring an MLS team to New York in 2015.
That’s despite the fact that since December, coronavirus started spreading across the U.S., killing thousands. It forced businesses to close and millions of people to lose their jobs. Planning is well underway, and the team is still slated to begin playing in March 2021, though.
Here’s a quick status update on Charlotte’s MLS franchise, according to Glick, who sat down with the Agenda last week:
Hiring a staff and head coach: Charlotte’s MLS team has made a few key hires. The first was a sporting director, Zoran Krneta, who will essentially act as the team’s general manager, plus a director of scouting, Thomas Schaling. The team’s been interviewing head coach candidates and will soon narrow the field down to a few finalists, Glick says.
“Charlotte is a vibrant, full of energy, relatively young, ambitious city, and we would probably describe similarly the club. And from there you can get some of the profile and characteristics of the coach,” Krneta told Mlssoccer.com last month. The outlet reported that Krneta, formerly based in London, and other overseas hires had to delay their move to Charlotte because of the pandemic.
Tepper Sports has had some employees floating between MLS and Panthers operations, Glick said. But to date, there are about 20-some people specifically working on MLS operations in Charlotte. Glick started assembling that group last winter.
Recently, Tepper Sports cut about 15 jobs, Joe Person of The Athletic reported. Many of those jobs were in sales and ticketing, and the team says the cuts were performance-related.
Where the players will come from: The team hasn’t signed any players, but the time’s coming.
In July, the transfer window opens up, which will allow Charlotte and other teams to sign players from around the world. Glick calls this “the most important source of talent for us.” Then there’s an expansion draft this fall, which allows expansion teams (Charlotte and Austin) to select players who are in the squads of other MLS teams. Then in January, there’s a college draft.
Tepper’s team also launched a soccer academy back in March. It will be another source of future talent for the professional team. It comprises players from three age groups, who will start playing games in July.
“Essentially this is talent that’s right here in our home in the Carolinas that we can identify and develop from a very young age, and help them progress,” Glick says.
Renovations and construction: In December, city leaders sweetened the pot with the promise of $110 million in hospitality funds that Tepper could use toward the team.
Those funds will go toward renovations at Bank of America Stadium, as well as toward the construction of an MLS team headquarters out at the old Eastland Mall site. The youth academy will also call Eastland home one day.
At the stadium, construction crews are adding 14 luxury bunker suits to the lower bowl, each fitting 12 people. The suites are for either individuals or corporations, and they cost $300,000 per season. They’ll be ready for the NFL season, Glick said.
The team also plans to make certain soccer-specific improvements at the stadium, such as the addition of a central tunnel, camera infrastructure for broadcasting MLS games, and new locker rooms.
Some of that work has been delayed, however, Glick said, without saying which part.
Other MLS Charlotte facts: Charlotte’s MLS team abbreviation was initially CHA, like the Hornets, but MLS opted to change it to CLT. The MLS season lasts from March through October.
Tepper bought the Panthers in 2018 and had an MLS team 18 months later — it’s remarkable, considering some cities have pitched the MLS for years and years. His deep pockets helped, as did his sports business know-how. Just has he paid a record price for his NFL team ($2.275 billion), Tepper paid a record expansion fee for the MLS team (an estimated $300 million-$325 million).
Last summer, Panthers executives signed a multi-year deal with Ally Financial to be the main corporate backer for the MLS team.
New stadium in the future? Tepper’s made clear that he wants a new, state-of-the-art stadium Uptown.
A covered facility that could be home to both of his teams, big-name concerts, Final Fours, and eventually maybe even a Super Bowl.
One property near the current stadium that Tepper has mentioned: The Charlotte Pipe and Foundry site. Last month, the longtime manufacturer confirmed it is relocating, a move that could free up its 55-acre property.
“It’s hard to say what the what the future that ought to be,” Glick said of the Charlotte Pipe site.
“Uptown Charlotte is booming will continue to be. And that clearly is a really interesting site, and it will be a really important part of the future development of Uptown. But right now right now we’re focused on getting this season up and going.”