It’s not an official motto, but Charlotte FC want to carry a “go big or go home” mentality into MLS.
With less than a year until their debut, the 2022 expansion club previewed their approach during a “virtual town hall” for media on Wednesday, explaining their plans to quickly plant deep community roots and gallop straight into the league’s elite, much like their comparably outsized predecessors in Atlanta and Seattle.
CLTFC will share a home with their NFL siblings (Carolina Panthers), just like ATLUTD and the Sounders do, creating one of several factors fueling big season-ticket numbers and lofty ambitions for their 2022 bow.
“We're not scared to share what success is,” declared club president Nick Kelly. “Success is, we want to have the largest MLS match ever. Bank of America Stadium affords us this rare opportunity to eclipse the current [standalone] record, which is just under 74,000. We want to beat that. That's a challenge to our fans, that's a challenge to the market to come out in March of 2022 to make sure that we show everybody how Carolina represents soccer.”
Atlanta United own the aforementioned milestone from their 2018 MLS Cup triumph at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, not to mention all 10 of the biggest standalone regular-season attendance figures in MLS history and consistently large, loud home crowds. That’s the scale and experience Charlotte are targeting.
“We don't just want you there for the first match. We want a consistent home attendance of 30,000,” said Kelly. “That is a full lower bowl, that would put us top three in the league. That is a strong fanbase for year one, and then it also represents an opportunity that we want everybody who wants to come to a game to have the chance to come. There will be affordable options for single-game tickets.”
It’s no coincidence that their Southern counterparts sound so similar to the Five Stripes with their bold plans. CLTFC are eyeing not only Audi MLS Cup Playoffs qualification in their inaugural season, but a high enough seed to host a postseason match.
Their youth academy has already begun play and an array of community outreach projects are underway to help small businesses and military families. They range from addressing food insecurity and economic instability to providing small-sided playing fields and grassroots soccer and mentorship programs for kids across the Carolinas.
“We have an opportunity to establish a new fan base, new traditions,” said Kelly, positing that of “the thousands of people that move here every year, there's very little history, and very few people in the market that have an existing MLS fandom. So for us to be able to grab people in both North and South Carolina, and to create one unified fan base, is a truly unique opportunity.
“We want to make sure everybody has an opportunity to feel a part of this,” he added. “Our expectations in year one, as you'll see, are extremely aggressive.”
Club owner David Tepper made a cameo appearance on Wednesday, emphasizing his desire to create a party atmosphere – “that communal sort of togetherness” – at every match on par with the liveliest matchday experiences in the league. He underlined his commitment with a laugh upon flashing a few old photos from his days as a parent-coach of his daughters’ youth soccer teams.
“That's part of the attraction of MLS, you look at other stadiums and what goes on there, it’s two hours of fun,” said Tepper, who added that he’s been surprised at the enthusiasm he’s encountered ahead of the new club’s launch.
“We have a lot of exciting things going on with Panther football. But people are talking to me about Charlotte Football Club, how excited they are to go to the game, they can't wait [until] it begins,” he said. “These are mainly, I would say, people from the 20 to 35 [age] grouping, there seems to be a lot of excitement there and hopefully we can garner some of that … For me, demographically, this is the sport.”
Kelly said Charlotte’s first home uniforms will be unveiled in November, to be followed by the reveal of their alternate “community kit” in January, while they expect their expansion draft to occur in November. They’re planning to launch a supporters’ council and will soon sign their first eMLS player.
While they're building an academy complex at the Eastland Mall site as part of a wider construction project, the first team is slated to train at an Uptown site near Bank of America Stadium, in the city center. Kelly also extolled the experience and diversity of the front-office staff they’ve built.
“We’ve moved fast, and we've had the ability to go out there and hire a young, diverse staff that is representative of this community in less than four months, with a vast background in everything from other MLS teams, the league offices to everything from NASCAR to Concacaf,” he noted.
Sporting director Zoran Krneta provided an update on the technical side, sharing that CLTFC are down to their shortlist of head coach candidates and hope to announce their pick in the next five to six weeks, dropping a small hint that they're seeking “someone who will be open to exploring, developing and giving a chance to youngsters.”
Explaining why Charlotte signed and loaned out four players already, the former agent and scout noted that the club resolved to find a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced them to delay their MLS entry by a year but also presented some values on the transfer market.
CLTFC have already inked a regional television partnership with three stations, one of them a Spanish-language deal with Telemundo Charlotte, and plan to push the envelope with their investments in presentation, talent and new technologies.
“We have one of the largest broadcasting territories in all of MLS, so much so that with more than 15 million individuals in North and South Carolina, we have the second-largest broadcast market,” explained Kelly. “We want to have the best local broadcast in all of sports, this is not just within MLS. And we're going to show you what kind of things we're putting in place to make sure this feels like the “Sunday Night Football” of MLS soccer, where it's the most elite broadcast with a great, representative broadcast crew in place.
“This is our sales vehicle for how we actually go out and engage with the fans who can't make it to the game.”