Charlotte pro soccer team embarks on a new chapter with overhauled Memorial Stadium

Charlotte pro soccer team embarks on a new chapter with overhauled Memorial Stadium

Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

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The Charlotte Independence soccer team officially moves into the county-owned American Legion Memorial Stadium on July 7, the first big event after the stadium’s $40.5 million overhaul.

The move marks the latest change for the Independence, whose management is weighing the team’s fate as Charlotte’s newer pro soccer team, Charlotte FC, prepares to begin playing in the spring.

  • Independence president and managing partner Jim McPhilliamy is considering moving the Independence down a division from USL Championship division to the USL League One.
  • Controlling owner Dan DiMicco, the former CEO of Nucor, is selling his 39% stake in the team, which he bought in 2018.

Why it matters: McPhilliamy sees a move down a division as a way to coexist with Charlotte FC, the Major League Soccer team Panthers owner David Tepper landed in 2019. Furthermore, playing in a modernized Memorial Stadium will provide a lower-cost, accessible alternative, McPhilliamy says.

  • Tickets for the team’s July 7 game against the New York Red Bulls II start at $12. There’ll be a fireworks show afterward.
  • Charlotte FC, on the other hand, is selling permanent seat licenses, essentially ownership rights to buy tickets for a certain seat. Factoring in the one-time PSL fee ($350 is the cheapest), Charlotte FC has the priciest tickets per match ($54.44) of any MLS team, as the Observer reported.

“Our ticket prices are very affordable and built for a fun family night out,” McPhilliamy said.

These changes for the Charlotte Independence follow a year when revenue dried up across pro sports leagues. The Independence, which McPhilliamy founded in 2014, were trying to drum up ticket sales long before the pandemic, though.

  • Memorial Stadium will be the fifth home venue for the Independence. Previously, they played at Transamerica Field at UNC Charlotte, Winthrop’s Eagle Field, Ramblewood Soccer Complex and at the Sportsplex in Matthews, as the Charlotte Post noted recently.
  • The Independence averaged about 1,800 fans per game in Matthews, their most recent home.

“I think we’ll see similar results to what the Knights saw when they moved Uptown,” McPhilliamy said of the minor-league team that moved into their Uptown field in 2014 after playing for years in Fort Mill. “I think we’ll see three times our average attendance (from Matthews).”

Looking ahead, McPhilliamy says the plan is to make a decision about a move down to the USL League One by the end of the season.

  • It costs about $1 million less per year to operate in League One than in USL Championship.
  • In League One, the players are younger and the games are more regional, McPhilliamy says. They’d have games against markets like Greenville, Richmond and Raleigh.

“I think that model works a lot better with Charlotte FC being in my backyard,” McPhilliamy tells Axios.

Flashback: In late 2017, Mecklenburg County approved plans to renovate Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1936. That came soon after another MLS pitch — elected officials at the time rejected to fund plans by Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith to demolish Memorial and put an MLS stadium in its place.

The Memorial Stadium overhaul includes:

  • An expanded field (75 yards now vs. 58 yards previously).
  • New artificial turf.
  • New seats (the stadium now has a capacity of 10,500).
  • Original stones forming the field-layer wall.
  • Reconstructed concourses.
  • New concession stands that’ll sell local craft beer, burgers, hotdogs and other ballpark fare.
  • Public art out front facing Charlottetowne that illustrates the five branches of the military.
  • A state-of-the-art scoreboard.

The stadium retains its historical feel, McPhilliamy says, while having lots of modern touches.

Eventually, the county-owned Memorial Stadium will host a range of events, from high school and college sporting events to concerts. “There’s not a bad seat in the whole place,” McPhilliamy said.

Here’s a look at what the overhauled stadium looks like:

Editors note: This story was updated on July 1 to include the correct name of the Independence’s former home field in Matthews.

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