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Charlotte City Council simply pauses MLS hype

(Photo: Ray Terrill/Wikimedia Commons)

by Corey Inscoe

When Don Garber came out a couple of weeks ago and said that Charlotte was in “the front of the line” for the 30th MLS franchise, it felt like a done deal that our Queen City would land a team – a matter of when not if. Game over. Thanks for playing, Phoenix and Las Vegas. 

Conversations in our Mint City Collective Slack quickly moved to branding (please be "Charlotte"), colors (gimme that Panther blue), and speculation that this foregone conclusion of a Charlotte team would launch in 2021, just over a year from now, to balance out the Eastern and Western conferences.

This week, though, the conversation shifted – and a little bit of worry set in – when Charlotte City Council decided to hit the pause button and delay a decision on MLS funding.

David Tepper’s MLS plan includes getting $100 million from the city, funded through the tourism tax, that would go toward making Bank of America Stadium more soccer-friendly and give the proposed team a headquarters on the old Eastland Mall land.

According to previous reports, it seemed like the council would vote on this funding before the end of November. Now, it looks like it won’t happen that fast. According to the Charlotte Business Journal, council members now expect a public discussion and vote on the MLS bid to happen after the next council is sworn in Dec. 2.

So, what the heck happens now? 

Well, here’s what I think doesn’t happen: I don’t think we’re going to have another Marcus Smith expansion situation. That MLS bid in 2017 seemed doomed from the beginning, and the county denying funding was just the final nail in a coffin that was essentially already sealed shut. 

Just read between the lines on what council member Justin Harlow told CBJ (emphasis mine): “Referring to what he said have been multiple closed council MLS discussions this year, Harlow praised the process as cordial and effective. Unlike some past incentives discussions, council has ‘not been pushed into a corner.’ … ‘Overall, it’s been a good process.’”

Tepper has the money and desire to bring MLS to Charlotte. MLS seems like it really wants to give him a team. And Charlotte City Council seems open to the idea – and eight of the 11 members of the council won reelection this month, so we’re not seeing major changes in the decision-making body.

This delay doesn’t feel like the council is backing away from the funding. Rather, I think they want to make sure that this decision doesn’t appear rushed, is done in public and involves the new council. Frankly, it seems to be all about optics.

“We look at this as a business investment and opportunity,” Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles told CBJ. “I know there will be an opportunity to have the discussion we’re going to have to have in the open.”

We now know that Garber will be adding a 30th team, and that the league will make the announcement by the end of the year. I fully expect that team to be awarded to Charlotte – and I’m not the only one. Charlotte Observer columnist Scott Fowler was at Tepper’s recent Q&A and had this takeaway:

“If Tepper and the city of Charlotte don’t get a Major League Soccer team, I’ll be stunned.”

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