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Charlotte abuzz with talk of Major League Soccer, stadium changes

Updated: Sep. 25, 2019 at 5:15 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The news that broke on Tuesday about Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper asking the city council for up to $200 million for renovations to Bank of America stadium to host major league soccer has raised a lot of questions. How likely is Charlotte to win a franchise? What would it mean for the Panthers?

There’s been serious talk about major league soccer coming to Charlotte for at least two years. Just this past April, Charlotte councilman Tariq Bokhari told WBTV the council was waiting on formal talks.

"I think we will sit back and wait. See how this plays out and what is the ask,” Bokhari said at the time.

The “ask,” we have now learned, is David Tepper seeking up to $200 million to make Bank of America Stadium suitable for major league soccer. Brad Wylde of the Charlotte Soccer Academy likes what he is hearing.

“Been some buzz recently since David Tepper purchased the Panthers that he has an interest in bringing major league soccer to Charlotte, from our standpoint, we couldn’t be more happy,” Wylde said.

Charlotte has a growing soccer culture, Wylde says, and the Charlotte Soccer Academy is the region’s largest competitive youth soccer program.

Erik Spanberg of The Charlotte Business Journal reported that in August, MLS Commissioner Don Garber visited Charlotte, meeting with the civic and business leaders.

“I asked the commissioner of Major League Soccer during the All-Star week, social online forum, he said very much so, they are intrigued by David Tepper, intrigued by Charlotte,” Spanberg said.

Marcus Smith, who had his own effort to bring MLS to Charlotte at a renovated Memorial Stadium, says the league likes the Queen City.

“I think MLS definitely sees Charlotte as a fantastic city to have a franchise,” said Smith. “The success that’s been seen in Atlanta with the United, I think could be repeated here in Charlotte with the right stadium set up.”

That would come at a cost. In Atlanta the team plays in a stadium shared with the Atlanta Falcons.

“They’ve got one of the biggest fan bases in the league if not the biggest, putting 65,000+ in the game every week," Wylde added.

Purpose built to be convertible, the Mercedes Benz Stadium cost $1.2 billion with the city providing $200 million in stadium bonds, and other tax revenues.

In Monday’s closed-door meeting in Charlotte, sources confirm that nothing was said about the Panthers and whether the team would share the stadium.

And the cost of renovations wouldn’t represent the full price tag. Tepper anticipates paying between $250 and $350 million in expansion fees and other start up costs if the MLS gives a team to Charlotte.

The most recent expansion was announced for a new team in St. Louis, CBS Sports says Sacramento is likely to the next one awarded, that leaves a spot for the league’s 30th team.

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