Charlotte's MLS expansion fee reportedly a record $325M — two-thirds more than recent expansions

Carolina Panthers president Tom Glick, right, speaks to the media as Charlotte, N.C., mayor Vi Lyles, left, and Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO Tom Murray, center, listen during a news conference in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, July 9, 2019. Glick and Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper will travel to New York to meet with Major League Soccer officials in hopes of bringing an expansion team to Charlotte. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
The Charlotte group is expected to announce the 30th franchise Tuesday morning. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper will reportedly spent $325 million for an expansion franchise in Charlotte, according to a report by ESPN. It’s a price 62.5 percent more than the expansion fee of the two more recent expansion teams in St. Louis and Sacramento.

Report: Charlotte to become league’s 30th franchise

Charlotte will become the club’s 30th team and the group has been working with Major League Soccer to finalize the deal before the new year. Less than two weeks ago MLS commissioner Don Garber said they were in “advanced discussions” with the billionaire NFL owner and his group after the bid surged ahead of others last month.

The announcement could be made as soon as Tuesday at 10 a.m. when a news conference is scheduled for what’s being called a “major announcement” by Tepper Sports and Entertainment. It will be held at the Mint Museum in Charlotte.

MLS has expanded rapidly with 20 clubs joining since 2005. There are currently 24 playing. Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF will start play in 2020, with Austin FC to follow in 2021. St. Louis and Sacramento will begin in 2022. The Charlotte team will reportedly start playing matches within two years, per ESPN.

Record price for Charlotte club

Tepper is reportedly paying a high price to get Charlotte a club. The expansion fee has been reported at $350 million, a number Garber didn’t confirm nor dispute after the league’s final board of governors meeting in 2019.

ESPN reported the cost to be $325 million. Both numbers are a steep increase over the $200 million the league instituted earlier this year for St. Louis and Sacramento, which finally got its club after years of trying. Investors in Nashville and Cincinnati agreed to $150 million.

Forbes evaluated the clubs for its annual Most Valuable Teams piece in November and noted that most typically operate at a loss even though revenues and expansion fees are rising. Owners are willing to pay big given the potential with a new national TV deal for 2023, a men’s World Cup in the United States and the idea that soccer will continued to grow and eventually “hold its own” against the NFL.

Panthers’ Bank of America stadium to see upgrades

The biggest hurdle in getting a deal done with Tepper and the Charlotte bidders, Garber said earlier this month, was the Bank of America Stadium.

“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.”

He said he liked the location of the stadium and that the market is larger than the city itself. Charlotte is a sprawling city that sits close to the South Carolina border and draws in fans from around both states.

But it holds 75,000 people, three time most other clubs, and will need renovations before it’s ready for soccer matches. It reportedly includes clearing it for soccer camera angles, a center tunnel and two new locker rooms.

The Charlotte City Council agreed to set aside $110 million in hospitality funds “to help ensure a successful venture over the next many years,” the Charlotte Observer reported. That would need to be put to a public vote, though.

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