CHARLOTTE, N.C. — While Charlotte MLS supporters have wasted no time in stoking a Southeastern rivalry with Atlanta United, the similarities between the clubs lend the league's newest expansion side a blueprint for how to successfully launch an MLS team in this region of the country.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber was in Charlotte Tuesday to award the city the league's 30th franchise, alongside owner David Tepper and Mayor Vi Lyles. On a day of celebration and optimism, the city and fans are looking forward to what their new team can be both on and off the field in their inaugural season in 2021 and beyond.
And Atlanta United offer a nearby benchmark.
“That’s certainly the standard we’re shooting for," Carolina Panthers president and former Manchester City COO Tom Glick told MLSsoccer.com. "If we can reach that, then we’re going to see how we can go past it. That’s saying a lot because they’ve done an incredible job."
Atlanta have been a resounding success in their first three seasons, winning MLS Cup in 2018 as well as the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup this year. Along the way, they've set attendance records and created a phenomenal atmosphere at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which they share with the Atlanta Falcons.
Given Charlotte's geographical proximity, plus the fact Tepper also owns the Carolina Panthers and the two teams will share Bank of America Stadium, Atlanta is an obvious model to follow.
“It has to do with the proximity of the two cities, and rivalries are such a big part about driving soccer passion everywhere around the world, not just in Major League Soccer," Garber told reporters. "We’ve capitalized on that over the last number of years as we add more and more teams.”
In anticipation of being awarded a franchise and being ready to play in 2021, Charlotte have already been in discussion with Atlanta to better understand what made them so successful from the opening whistle in 2017.
"They’ve been great with us in terms of sharing insights and advice in our process of making sure this club is going to work in the Carolinas – we’re convinced that it will – but they’ve opened their doors to us to help us understand what they did," Glick said. "We’ll continue to lean on them, as well as other clubs around Major League Soccer to make sure we’re grabbing the fundamentals while making sure to create something original for Charlotte.”
While gaining insights off the field, Charlotte is also happy to talk up a future rivalry.
“That other city down the road to the West? Charlotte is hot, we’re the hot city. Screw that other city.” Tepper said during Tuesday's announcement. “I’m counting on you guys," he added, pointing to a group of supporters.
Those Charlotte supporters certainly believe they can rival Atlanta's success in their first few seasons.
“I think we can be the next Atlanta culturally," Mint City Collective member Johnny Wakefield said. "Charlotte has a few challenges. It’s not quite as large as Atlanta, and we have probably fewer people who have been here their whole lives because we’re younger and up and coming. But the Hispanic community is massive and we have a large number of transplants who come in here from other cities… it’s about getting them to say ‘hey, this is our team, this is how me and my kids can identify with Charlotte.’ If the team can tap into that crowd, we’ll be alright.”
Mint City president Jay Landskroener was even more bullish. “I would like to say that we’ll have better support than Atlanta, I think Charlotte is a better city anyway," he said. "And the people are nicer.”