Charlotte edges closer to MLS expansion, but hurdles remain

Commissioner Don Garber and Major League Soccer hope to bring a franchise to Charlotte in the very near future. (Omar Vega/Getty)
Commissioner Don Garber and Major League Soccer hope to bring a franchise to Charlotte in the very near future. (Omar Vega/Getty)

NEW YORK — Major League Soccer is hoping to finalize an agreement that would award Charlotte, North Carolina the league’s 30th club by the end of the month.

Just under a month since MLS commissioner Don Garber said that Charlotte’s bid — which is backed by Carolina Panthers billionaire owner David Tepper — was the frontrunner to land the circuit’s next expansion franchise, Garber provided another update Thursday following the league’s final board of governors meeting of 2019 in Brooklyn.

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

“We are in very, very advanced discussions with David and his group,” Garber said, noting that Tepper was in attendance at the meeting. “Earlier today, the MLS board authorized the MLS expansion committee to enter into what I expect to be final negotiations with David to have Charlotte be our 30th team.”

MLS to Charlotte not a done deal quite yet

Still, several hurdles must still be cleared before any formal announcement can take place. “No formal approval was granted today,” Garber noted. The sticking point is the stadium, the commissioner said.

While Tepper is prepared to spend about a half billion dollars of his own money to pay for the reported $350 million expansion fee — a figure Garber wouldn’t confirm but didn’t dispute — and other expenses associated with running a top-flight professional soccer team, he’s also seeing an additional $100 million in public money for upgrades to 75,000-seat Bank of America stadium, which opened in 1996.

“I have spent time with representatives in the city council and the mayor and with business leaders,” Garber said. “We have a great sense that this team will be embraced.

“The remaining issues with Charlotte are related to their stadium and ensuring that we're going to be able to put together a dynamic in that stadium that will be up to the standards of all of our current soccer stadiums, and certainly up to the standards of the great environments that we have in our two NFL stadiums we play in in Seattle and in Atlanta.”

The Seattle Sounders and Atlanta United have won the past two MLS Cups in their sold-out NFL venues. Like those teams, Charlotte’s arena is located downtown.

“We like the location that the stadium is in today,” Garber said, adding that Tepper’s group gave a presentation that was well-received by the 29 other ownership groups. “We also really like the city as a market. We think the market is larger than just the city itself. So there are a lot of very positive things. We’ve got to get stadium right.”

Major League Soccer CBA update

With the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the MLS player association expiring at the end of the month, Garber was predictably asked for an update on the negotiations.

He said that the two sides met on Wednesday. “Things are kind of in full swing,” he said. “I think there's a desire on both parties to reach an agreement.”

MLS narrowly avoided a work stoppage when previous agreements were being hashed out in 2010 and 2015. “All CBA negotiations are difficult,” Garber said. “It's not about taking things away. It's how do we manage collectively as a league and as a player group, to be able to provide more resources in a wide variety of areas that are manageable for ownership and acceptable to the players.

“I've been through it many times before,” Garber continued. “It's not the most fun part of the job, but you know, I've got hope and confidence that will be able to reach [a deal].”

More from Yahoo Sports: 

What to Read Next