Can Charlotte FC stay ahead of the game in building MLS team?

Can Charlotte FC stay ahead of the game in building MLS team?
(MELISSA KEY/CBJ)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A crowd of business and political VIPs and boisterous soccer fans filled the Mint Museum last December to celebrate the arrival of a Major League Soccer franchise.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Mayor Vi Lyles and multibillionaire David Tepper sat on a custom stage inside the museum. Tepper, fresh off agreeing to pay a record $325 million entry fee to secure the team, stepped to the microphone and asked, “Charlotte, you ready to party?”

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Charlotte was, but the COVID-19 pandemic that arrived a few months later changed much of what was supposed to come next for the team. A stalled economy, stay-at-home orders and the ongoing health threat has changed everything about how all sports franchises are operating.

MLS disclosed plans earlier this month to delay the on-field debuts of expansion clubs in Charlotte, St. Louis and Sacramento by a year. Back in December, Tepper and his executives thought they would unveil a team name, crest and colors by spring. Instead, Charlotte FC, as in Football Club, debuted by livestream video its name and blue, black, silver and white color scheme last week after several delays caused by the pandemic.

There could be no splashy — and crowded — unveiling event. Still, momentum for the franchise remains strong.

Fans snapped up logo scarves so fast the team and its online apparel provider had to restock by early afternoon on July 22 — the day of the announcement.

Charlotte FC: MLS expansion team unveils name, crest, colors

Tom Glick, president of Tepper Sports & Entertainment, the parent company over Charlotte FC and the NFL Carolina Panthers, acknowledged the unique challenges of starting a team now but remained optimistic.

“We’re still going to be living in a world where we’re taking precautions and wearing face coverings and being really smart during this pandemic,” he said. “We’re going to be doing more interactions with fans and partners in the community like we are (online) right now. … They’ll just happen in a different way.”

Read the full story for key benchmarks to watch ahead of the launch of Charlotte FC in March 2022.