Fact Friday 377 - The History of Soccer in Charlotte
This week's Fact Friday comes to you from Wikipedia, with additional content added.
The Charlotte area has been home to several lower-division soccer teams, dating back to the Carolina Lightnin' in the early 1980s. The Lightnin' won the American Soccer League championship in 1981 in front of 20,163 people at American Legion Memorial Stadium. It marked Charlotte's first professional sports championship. After the league folded in 1983, the team played for one season as the Charlotte Gold in United Soccer League before ceasing operations. Professional soccer did not return to Charlotte until the founding of the Charlotte Eagles in 1991, who joined the USISL in 1993.
Charlotte was on the list of cities interested in joining Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1994, prior to the league's inaugural season, but was not awarded a franchise. Charlotte was also named as a potential home for an expansion team in both 1996 and 1998, but was passed over in favor of other cities. The Charlotte Convention Center hosted the MLS SuperDraft and National Soccer Coaches Association of America conference in January 2004. Since a renovation to Bank of America Stadium in 2014, the city has hosted several friendly and international matches, including the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the International Champions Cup, which drew strong attendance figures. The area also has a large soccer-playing population, centered around recreational leagues that have led other efforts to attract a professional team to Charlotte.
Unsuccessful MLS bids
A separate professional team, the Charlotte Independence, was founded in 2014 and replaced the Eagles in the second division (now named the USL Championship). The team moved into a permanent soccer stadium in Matthews, North Carolina, in 2017. The Independence's ownership group had expressed their goal of winning an MLS expansion team when the club was founded, and proposed a major renovation to American Legion Memorial Stadium in 2015 that would make it into soccer-specific stadium. The team hired a sports investment firm in October 2016 to advertise the MLS bid to potential investors while preparing further stadium plans.
A separate Charlotte bid was formed in late 2016 by Marcus G. Smith of Speedway Motorsports, the owners of the Charlotte Motor Speedway, with support from local business leaders. The bid proposed building a new stadium at the Memorial Stadium site with 20,000 to 30,000 seats that would cost $175 million, including $87.5 million funded by the city and county governments and a $75 million loan to the ownership group. The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners voted 5–3 in favor of the stadium plan, while the Charlotte City Council decided against a vote on the issue before the bid deadline on January 31, 2017.
Smith submitted the bid without the city council's support, instead relying on the county government's funding plan. Several league officials toured Charlotte in July 2017, but the city council and county commissioners both canceled their meetings during the tour. Charlotte also faced competition from a bid submitted by Raleigh, North Carolina, who were also part of the twelve-city shortlist and had support from the state government. The Mecklenburg County government voted in August against their financial contribution to the stadium project in favor of deferring the issue to the city government, who declined to vote on the issue. MLS narrowed its shortlist of candidates in November 2017 to four cities, leaving out Charlotte.
Expansion Bid Under Tepper
The manager and billionaire David Tepper, after the purchase of a 5% stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, became the owner of the National Football League's Carolina Panthers in July 2018 and suggested his interest in bringing Major League Soccer to Charlotte. The Panthers' new team president, Tom Glick, was formerly the chief operating officer of Manchester City F.C. and was also involved in the MLS expansion bid for New York City FC. Glick was placed in charge of organizing an MLS expansion bid for Tepper, who had several meetings with league officials before the next bidding window was opened in April 2019.
Tepper presented a formal expansion bid for Charlotte to the league in July 2019, shortly before meetings with league officials and additional tours of Bank of America Stadium. He announced plans in September to upgrade the existing Bank of America Stadium to make it suitable for an MLS team, which would include up to $210 million in contributions from the city government. Tepper also discussed constructing a new stadium for the Panthers and a soccer team that would have a retractable roof. In November, MLS commissioner Don Garber named Charlotte as the frontrunner to earn the slot for the 30th team, praising Tepper's efforts and the bid's plans.
The Charlotte City Council approved $110 million in stadium and franchise funding in late November, using revenue from a hospitality tax. The MLS Board of Governors convened in early December to discuss the Charlotte bid and authorized final negotiations with Tepper. The expansion team was officially awarded to Charlotte by MLS at an event at the Mint Museum on December 17, 2019, with the team to begin play in 2021. The expansion fee to be paid by Tepper is reported to be near $325 million, a 62.5 percent increase from what was paid by the successful bids for St. Louis and Sacramento earlier in the year. The team sold 7,000 season ticket deposits in the first 24 hours after the expansion announcement. On July 17, 2020, MLS announced that the Charlotte expansion team's debut would be delayed by a year to 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In December 2019, several media outlets reported that Tepper Sports had submitted a trademark filing that included eight potential names: Charlotte FC, Charlotte Crown FC, Charlotte Fortune FC, Charlotte Monarchs FC, Charlotte Athletic FC, Charlotte Town FC, Carolina Gliders FC, and All Carolina FC. A name announcement was scheduled for June 2020, but was delayed a month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The name and crest were revealed during a livestream event on July 22, 2020, with Charlotte Football Club (shortened to Charlotte FC) chosen as the winner.
The club's crest was designed by Doubleday & Cartwright and consists of a black roundel with a Process Blue center, the same shade of blue used by the Carolina Panthers. The shape, resembling a coin, and use of "Minted 2022" in the crest are references to the city's banking industry and the historic Charlotte Mint, the first U.S. Mint branch. At the center is a four-pointed crown, referencing the four wards of Uptown Charlotte and the city's nickname of the "Queen City", itself referencing namesake Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
The bid organizers signed a multi-year kit sponsorship agreement with Ally Financial in July 2019 for the then-unannounced MLS team.
Charlotte FC has five officially recognized supporters groups seated in the east end at Bank of America Stadium. The largest, Mint City Collective, was launched in June 2019 to support the MLS expansion bid. It was founded by several members of the Roaring Riot, a Panthers fan club, and has 2,000 members as of February 2021. The remaining recognized groups are Southbound and Crown, the Uptown Ultras, Carolina Hooliganz, and Blue Furia, a Latin American supporters' group. Other supporters clubs include the Queen's Firm, founded in 2017, and the QC Royals, founded in 2015 to support other minor league teams.
Starting with the inaugural season, a local celebrity is "crowned" as the "monarch" of the match. The first "Match Coronation" featured former Panthers player Steve Smith Sr. After every home win, the man of the match is crowned by the supporters section. Prior to first kick, fans in the supporters' section lock arms and perform the "Poznan" (a Polish supporters' dance) to the Faruko song "Pepas." The club's official mascot is Sir Minty, an anthropomorphic soccer ball that wears a crown, cape, and an oversized silver chain with an "M" medallion.
Until next week!
Wikipedia.org, "Charlotte FC."
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“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” - James Baldwin