Charlotte FC positioned to deliver big business wins in second season

CHARLOTTE — Charlotte FC had one of the best debut seasons in Major League Soccer’s history last year by almost any measure.

It started on March 5, 2022, when the team set a new single-match MLS attendance record at its home opener, with 74,479 fans filling Bank of America Stadium.

As the team prepares to take the field for its 2023 home opener, much has changed for Charlotte FC since that historic night. Those changes include:

First-year coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez lost his job less than midway through the season, fired by team owner Tepper Sports & Entertainment.

Charismatic Bundesliga and Premier League veteran Christian Fuchs, a fan favorite and team captain, retired after a 19-year playing career.

The network of local TV affiliates that played an important role in building the team’s passionate fan base is no more, replaced by a leaguewide, 10-year deal with Apple for a new streaming service, largely forgoing over-the-air and cable TV.

Tom Glick, Tepper’s top lieutenant in the bid to land the club that became Charlotte FC, left on Feb. 1, less than a month before last year’s season started with a road loss to D.C. United.

Nick Kelly, hired in December 2020 as Charlotte FC president, was promoted to CEO overseeing Tepper’s NFL franchise, the Carolina Panthers, as well as BofA Stadium and Charlotte FC when Glick left. With that promotion, Joe LaBue replaced Kelly as Charlotte FC president. By May, Kelly was out altogether. LaBue remains team president.

A plan to put the team’s headquarters and training center at the city-backed Eastland Yards development was dropped in favor of an east Charlotte office park.

It was a season punctuated by the unexpected, particularly in the front office.

And it mattered little to the army of fans who marched into the stadium game after game, eventually leading to an average attendance of 35,244 per home match, ranking second in the 28-team MLS in attendance. (MLS will grow to 29 clubs this year with the addition of an expansion team in St. Louis.)

Tepper Sports owner David Tepper wanted a party — and he got one, filled with the ups and downs such occasions bring. The team missed the playoffs and went through so many front-office shuffles that, by the time Charlotte FC hosted Chelsea FC in a midseason friendly, Glick was back at the stadium that night — as a representative of Chelsea FC, who hired Glick after he resigned here.

“Stability is something I would hope the club could lean into in the future,” said John Guppy, former president of the MLS Chicago Fire and president of growth operations consultant For Soccer. “Last year felt very chaotic.”

On the field, Christian Lattanzio steadied Charlotte FC as interim head coach after Ramírez’s departure last year, raising expectations for the upcoming season. This year marks the start of the team having a true player pipeline, as Charlotte FC parent Tepper Sports has added a feeder club, Crown Legacy FC, that will begin playing next month.

LaBue, during a recent interview at The Gallery, the stadium’s field suite section, acknowledged — and swiftly dismissed — speculation about any anticipated challenges sustaining fans’ interest.

“We want this to grow,” he said. “We have the stadium, physically, that will allow us to do it. We are very fortunate to be playing in a market that’s growing, a market that’s been more than receptive, that has partnered with us.”

This year will be bigger than 2022, and next year will be bigger than 2023, LaBue vowed. As for the physical space, BofA Stadium has capacity for 75,000 people but for most matches, Charlotte FC uses the lower bowl and suites only, reducing the maximum to 35,000. Depending on demand, the team can increase capacity in various increments — a strategy aimed at preserving the rowdy atmosphere fans and players have come to love by avoiding cavernous gaps of unsold tickets.

CBJ looked at some of the key categories and business matters Charlotte FC is navigating this season. Read the full story here.

(WATCH BELOW: CMPD looks for person who abandoned dog in dumpster at northeast Charlotte apartment)