The possibility of Major League Soccer in Charlotte quickly became the center of controversy this week because, well, it all happened so quickly.
If you haven’t been close to a news source, or just don’t care about soccer, let me come in with the assist: On Dec. 14, 2016, the MLS told national media outlets of its plans to add two new teams, and it mentioned Charlotte as a possibility. Burton and Marcus Smith, owner and CEO of NASCAR Speedway Motorsports, respectively, jumped at the opportunity, to the surprise of area government officials. The MLS set a Jan. 31 deadline if Charlotte wants in on the deal.
But the city already has a minor-league soccer team that hopes to expand. The Charlotte Independence, founded in 2014, has been dribbling around the idea of renovating Memorial Stadium, installing 10,000 seats and leaving room for expansion, with the possibility of becoming a MLS stadium in the future. As far back as last year, the Charlotte Observer reported on the team’s hopes. On Wednesday, Jim McPhilliamy, president of the Independence, told the Observer that his architectural plans for the stadium had been used “without our knowledge or consent” to help Marcus Smith score one of the available MLS franchises.
Charlotte certainly has a robust soccer fan base, with the Charlotte Soccer Academy, Charlotte United Soccer, and other clubs. What’s more, Bank of America Stadium has held sold-out games for national and international teams, so there is a profit incentive, too.
The question is: Can Charlotte afford to spend big money on a MLS team?
While Mecklenburg County officials jumped at the opportunity, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said in a statement released today that city leaders are not ready to commit. “While this is very promising, it is clear that we are not prepared to move forward at this time on the current soccer proposal,” Roberts wrote. “Any major decision we make needs to be considered as part of the bigger picture, as we serve our entire community.”
What’s more, that plan would kick the Charlotte Independence out, forcing the team to find a new home — halting its future like a dead ball.
In case you’re not already convinced that this deal is an attack on an integral part of the Charlotte community, including people's jobs and taxpayer dollars, take a look at what Jay Leach, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte said in a Facebook post Tuesday:
“Keep in mind, these county funds are not restricted and could be invested in public education, affordable housing, social services, museums, parks, or other opportunities to enhance the well-being of our community. But this rushed proposal is in support of one of the wealthiest families in the nation and their interest in getting to own a pro soccer team.”
Let’s red-card the multi-billion-dollar family that will profit off a project that the city is so clearly not ready for; a project that tackles the dreams of a club that is already active in our community.