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David Tepper lands Charlotte MLS franchise for record $325M expansion fee

Thomas Barrabi

Major League Soccer formally awarded its 30th franchise to the city of Charlotte and billionaire hedge fund magnate David Tepper on Tuesday, bolstering the league’s rapid pace of growth.

The new Charlotte franchise will begin play in the 2021 season at Bank of America Stadium. Tepper, who also owns the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, agreed to pay a record $325 million expansion fee to secure the winning bid.

“We are thrilled to welcome Charlotte as Major League Soccer’s 30th club,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “During the last two decades, Charlotte has experienced enormous energy and growth, which matches soccer’s explosive rise in popularity in the United States.  We are pleased to add David Tepper to our ownership group and look forward to working with him and his entire organization to launch Major League Soccer in the Carolinas in 2021.”

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Tepper is set to invest a total of $425 million toward the MLS franchise, including the cost of the expansion fee, player salaries and pay for the coaching staff, the Charlotte Business Journal reported. Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles has committed $110 million in city funding toward renovations that would make Bank of America Stadium suitable for pro soccer games, as well as the construction of a training facility.

With a Charlotte franchise in place, MLS has placed teams in 19 of the top 23 media markets, according to Nielsen. The league’s geographic footprint provides leverage in future media rights negotiations, which could yield hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue.

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“The awarding of an expansion team for Charlotte by Major League Soccer is a proud moment and significant for Charlotte and everyone in our community,” Tepper said in a statement. “I’ve made clear for a long time that I have two goals as a team owner: sustained winning on the field and making a difference in the community. These will be our goals with Charlotte’s MLS team, and the work begins today.”

Tepper paid a record $2.2 billion to buy the Panthers in 2018. The Panthers also play their home games at Bank of America Stadium.

The Charlotte franchise’s team name has yet to be determined. However, the organization is already accepting refundable deposits for season ticket packages.

The announcement came just weeks after MLS awarded expansion franchises to ownership groups in St. Louis and Sacramento, California. Both groups paid a then-record expansion fee of $200 million.

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