clt-full-house-mar3-2022

75,000 people. That’s the expected attendance for Charlotte FC’s home opener on Saturday against the LA Galaxy (7:30 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes). That’s an MLS record.

That’s enough people to make Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte one of the United States’ 500 most populous cities by itself, somewhere between the population of Scranton, Pennsylvania and nearby Gastonia, North Carolina. That’s enough to make you imagine Atlanta United scrambling to figure out how to install enough bleachers and pass out just enough tickets to get their attendance record back sometime in the near future.

That’s a lot of people.

Largest standalone match attendances in MLS history
Largest standalone match attendances in MLS history
75,000
Charlotte FC - March 5, 2022
73,019
Atlanta United - Dec. 8, 2018
72,548
Atlanta United - Aug. 3, 2019
72,243
Atlanta United - July 15, 2018
72,035
Atlanta United - March 11, 2018

A moment years in the making

For Charlotte FC, it’s the culmination of years of build-up – plus one extra due to the pandemic – that have led to this singular moment and a critical opportunity. While other new MLS clubs have had their team’s identity and culture externally defined by their city and region, Saturday is the first major step toward Charlotte FC becoming a central force in crafting that identity and culture.

To selfishly inject myself into this for a moment: I grew up visiting my grandparents in Charlotte. I didn’t know a ton about the city other than the fact that I would be required to get a Bojangles biscuit with my grandpa, one of the buildings happened to be pink, and Dale Earnhardt used to live somewhere close by. Other than that, there were…banks? Billy Graham? The Bobcats (now Hornets)?

Charlotte has often been pegged as a southern city on the rise, but on the rise towards what? From an outside view, it never seemed clear what kind of city it could be or even wanted to be. Largely, I think, in part because so many others were coming to Charlotte with an outside view of their own.

;

Community and culture

Charlotte, like other major cities in the southeast where people gather to get away from small towns or major metropolises where the air is cold enough to hurt your face for 70% of the year, is a transplant city. It's been that for decades really. So while third and fourth-generation Charlotteans can be hard to find, there are second-generation and long-time first-generation residents with genuine roots working toward building the city and region as a whole into what they want it to be and who they want it to reflect.

When it comes to applying those ideas to the community around Charlotte FC, it starts by taking a running leap off a foundation of soccer culture that's been ingrained into the region for years.

"There's been a really strong culture for this game in the Carolinas for a really long time extending all the way down to the youth level, to really strong collegiate programs, to historic USL clubs across the Carolinas," Charlotte FC chief fan officer Shawn McIntosh said.

"I've noticed that there has been a really rich soccer culture already brewing and already thriving in the Carolinas, which helps us come in and be a part of that longstanding tradition. You know, the supporters here, before even kicking a ball, they have been so passionate showing up to literally every event. Sometimes with little notice and with a couple of hours to travel to get there."

Trailer: How will Charlotte FC represent the Queen City?

That being the case, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising then to see Charlotte FC immediately vying for attendance records. Charlotte FC fullback and Charlotte native Jaylin Lindsey doesn’t think it should be.

“Growing up, I think soccer and Charlotte was always a big thing," said Lindsey, a former Sporting Kansas City homegrown player. "Like even playing club ball here and playing in the academy in Charlotte, it was always a big thing. There's always numerous amounts of player product that came out of North Carolina and even just in Charlotte. I think it's just a city that has grown so much. Even when I left for Kansas City I would come here in the summertime when European teams would come over to Bank of America Stadium and the stadium we almost filled."

"That's when I kind of knew, soccer is a big thing here in Charlotte. I thought that once Charlotte hopefully gets an MLS team, hopefully, the same type of thing coming on Saturday might happen. Now that it’s actually gonna happen, it's kind of a dream come true.”

They’ve already got people invested in the sport. Now the question is, how does Charlotte FC go about making their product a defining and lasting part of the community? There’s, of course, the obvious “make the team good at soccer” answer. That’s harder for an expansion team than other recent clubs have let on and may take some time. But the other answers are a bit more bespoke.

In addition to becoming a club that wants to represent Charlotte as a city, the club and its supporters wish to be more than just a point of pride for those who live and work in Uptown. They want to be a gathering place for the Carolinas as a whole. An indication of that is in the team’s inaugural primary kit, “The Carolina Kit”, featuring the outline of the region.

Representing the Carolinas

That desire to represent the entirety of North and South Carolina extends to Mint City Collective, Charlotte FC’s largest supporters’ group.

"When we first started, we didn't really know how big and how much we would grow. So the original thought was, okay, we're gonna start in Charlotte," Mint City Collective president David Guslet said. "You have a lot of folks here that are now in their 30s and 40s, most likely came down here during the '80s and '90s when Charlotte was seeing a ton of growth just due to the banking industry. And you have a ton of transplants, a ton of folks that are their parents or grandparents are not from here, but now you have established roots as this is all they know. Now you're starting to see a generation of folks that this is all they know, and this is all they've grown up to know. It's kind of cool to see because they're starting to create what they want to have, see Charlotte be known for and create that culture."

“So they may all have different home teams, but now they have a team here in Charlotte and in the Carolinas they can call their own. And they may bring some of their own traditions here. That’s the fun part but it's also the stressful part too. Because you're trying to meld and create this melody of different ideas and different cultures and create our own. We may not get it right at the very beginning.”

Charlotte's Jamie Moreno is ready for the call

Whatever that collection of ideas and cultures congeals into, it will offer a space unique to a number of generations of a transplant city and the region surrounding it. That space, coupled with a desire for consistent community outreach from the club and its supporters, could make Charlotte FC fandom itself a defining characteristic of the culture itself in the long term. 

That possibility takes a tangible form on Saturday. From there, we’ll have to see how it progresses. At the very least, though, Charlotte FC will get to reward the people who have worked towards giving Charlotte a record-breaking moment and capture the imagination of the people who just might be part of the next one.

“One way to keep people around is to put on one hell of a show on Saturday,” McIntosh said. “We’re certainly creating a party atmosphere in the stands and making sure we bring a level of energy that, regardless of it being our inaugural home match. We want to bring as a club as well. We’re hoping people are pretty blown away from what they see on Saturday.”

“This has been a long time coming for a lot of people," McIntosh went on to say. "Both on the club side and our fan side, there has been a tremendous amount of blood, sweat, tears and paint that has gone on to get to Saturday. I can’t stress enough the incredible culture behind the scenes with our supporters. It’s a lot of work that a lot of people are gonna be really proud of. I can’t stress how proud I am of our fan support getting us to this point.”