Charlotte awarded 30th MLS franchise after paying record-breaking expansion fee

The league’s rapid expansion continued as Charlotte prepares to have an expansion team in place for the 2021 campaign

Major League Soccer’s rapid expansion process continues as the league announced on Tuesday that Charlotte have been awarded an expansion team for 2021.

Charlotte will become the 30th franchise to join the league, with Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper paying a reported record-breaking $325 million (£247m) to become the latest franchise to join MLS. A number of cities had been vying for that highly-coveted spot, with Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis and Raleigh among those looking to find a place in MLS.

The league confirmed the new franchise at an event on Tuesday that featured Tepper, MLS commissioner Don Garber and Charlotte mayor Viola Lyles.

Charlotte will be the latest club to join MLS in 2021 as the league has expanded at a rapid pace over the past several years. A total of 20 teams have joined the league since 2005, with FC Cincinnati making their debut in 2019 with Inter Miami and Nashville SC beginning play in 2020. Austin FC will join in 2021 while franchises in St. Louis and Sacramento will begin play in 2022.

“We are thrilled to welcome Charlotte as Major League Soccer’s 30th club,” Commissioner Don Garber said. “During the last two decades, Charlotte has experienced enormous energy and growth, which matches soccer’s explosive rise in popularity in the United States.

“We are pleased to add David Tepper to our ownership group and look forward to working with him and his entire organization to launch Major League Soccer in the Carolinas in 2021.”

The Charlotte franchise, meanwhile, will begin play within the next two years at Bank Of America Stadium, home of Tepper’s NFL franchise. The stadium has hosted several marquee soccer events over the past several years, including Arsenal vs Fiorentina in the International Champions Cup while also featuring Mexico international fixtures and games involving the U.S. women’s national team. The stadium, however, will require renovations before hosting MLS matches.

Tepper revealed his intent to bring MLS to Charlotte shortly after buying the Panthers in 2018 for a record-breaking fee of $2.275 billion (£1.73bn).

And he reflected on Charlotte being awarded the expansion team and how he hopes the news will make a difference to the community.

“The awarding of an expansion team for Charlotte by Major League Soccer is a proud moment and significant for Charlotte and everyone in our community,” Tepper said. 

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“I’ve made clear for a long time that I have two goals as a team owner: sustained winning on the field and making a difference in the community. These will be our goals with Charlotte’s MLS team, and the work begins today.”

Charlotte will have a number of natural rivals in MLS, including Atlanta, Nashville, Miami and Orlando as the league has dialled in on expansion into the south-east in recent years.

The league will kick off its 25th anniversary season in March.

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