BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The Charlotte expansion bid has entered what is expected to be the final phase of negotiations to be awarded Major League Soccer's 30th team.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber spoke with media following a Board of Governors meeting on Thursday in which the Charlotte bid, led by Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, made an official presentation to the board for the first time. They had been in discussions with the Expansion Committee over the last year, and now the board approved that the Expansion Committee can enter final negotiations on an agreement with Charlotte, though nothing is decided yet.
“We’re in very, very advanced discussions with David (Tepper) and his group," Garber told reporters. "I think our board really appreciated all the detail they provided today. The MLS board authorized the MLS Expansion Committee to enter what I expect to be final negotiations with David to have Charlotte be our 30th team.
"No formal approval was granted today," Garber continued. "What was approved was the Expansion Committee to meet with David and his staff to try and finalize an agreement.”
Some of the last details to iron out? Stadium plans.
Should the bid cross the finish line, Charlotte will play in Bank of America Stadium, where the MLS team would become joint tenants with the Panthers.
“The remaining issues with Charlotte are related to their stadium," Garber explained, "ensuring we’ll be able to put together a dynamic in that stadium that will be up to the standards of our current soccer stadiums."
Garber specified that Charlotte's bid still needs to ensure that the supporters' section is proper, the tunnels are correct, the stadium has the right environments for locker rooms and other competitive areas, as well as how to size the stadium in the event that the 75,523-seat stadium isn't filled.
MLS hopes to have an agreement finalized by the end of the month, said Garber, adding that the best-case scenario is that Charlotte could begin play in 2021, joining Austin FC in their expansion season to keep the league at an even number of teams. MLS will be at 26 teams this season, with Nashville and Miami entering, while St. Louis and Sacramento are set to begin play in 2022.
While the hope is that the deal will be finalized soon, Garber also made note that it's not a foregone conclusion just yet.
“We’ve been through this many times before," Garber said. "I was reminded earlier that we came out of a board meeting a couple of years ago with approval to have our committee finalize an agreement with Nashville and Cincinnati. Nashville got finalized pretty quickly, but Cincinnati took many months. So, a lot of work needs to get done.”
If all goes well, though, Charlotte will be confirmed as team No. 30 in the rapidly growing MLS.
“We really like the city as a market," Garber said. "The Carolinas have got a lot of really positive things going on, we’ve seen some of those. Their support of minor league soccer, particularly Raleigh, and women’s soccer, particularly Raleigh. We think the market is larger than just the city itself, there are a lot of positive things but we have to get the stadium right.”