By David Newton, ESPN Soccer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Major League Soccer on Tuesday made it official that Charlotte will be the home of the league’s 30th and likely last franchise.
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper purchased the franchise for an MLS-record $325 million, sources told ESPN.
“This is the right time for our league,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in an interview with ESPN. “It’s the right time for the sport of soccer in America and it really is the right time for the ownership group. This is likely the last expansion team in Major League Soccer.
“We wanted to really take our time in making sure that we had a passionate owner that had a commitment to the community, that was in a city that had great history and great passion for the sport, that had a terrific stadium plan and would allow us to create the tremendous momentum we have as we get ready and prepare for the World Cup in 2026.”
The official announcement came at a news conference involving Tepper, Garber and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles.
Charlotte city council pledged $110 million to help secure the bid against other cities. The $325 million check Tepper wrote far exceeds the $200 million for the 28th and 29th expansion franchises.
“These are limited opportunities,” Garber said in explaining the jump in cost. “As MLS moves forward of going through a process of fully expanding our league, there was only one team left. Obviously, the value was going to be a part of the calculation.
“It’s also important to recognize that an investment in Major League Soccer today compared to where other sports leagues are is relatively inexpensive to capture what is going to be an enormous opportunity as the country continues to change.”
The plan is to start playing games in 2021 at Bank of America Stadium, the home of Tepper’s NFL franchise on which he spent an NFL-record $2.275 billion to purchase in 2018. The stadium will need renovations to make it MLS-ready.
Garber said St. Louis and Sacramento, the 28th and 29th teams, will begin playing in 2022.
Tepper’s ultimate goal is to have within 10 years a new state-of-the-art stadium with a retractable roof to host his NFL and MLS teams, as well as host NCAA Final Fours, concerts and other major events.
“There’s an opportunity to do things here. The public sector aligned with David and his vision to make this one of the great stadiums in the world for soccer and NFL football,” Garber said.
Tepper said it was his goal to bring professional soccer to Charlotte when he purchased the Panthers from founder Jerry Richardson. He immediately hired Tom Glick, who has worked with pro soccer in the United States and the United Kingdom, to oversee the team’s day-to-day operations on the business side.
Tepper is passionate about soccer. He coached it for nine years and wanted to have a team as much for personal reasons as professional.
“Seven-plus million people within an hour and a half drive. The only city that has only two major sports. No major league summer sport in Charlotte,” Tepper said in explaining why he wanted the MLS here. “A large Hispanic population which are not served by the other two sports.
“It’s sort of a perfect storm for what is needed in the community.”