As a new MLS season approaches, opening day on February 26th will serve as a launching point for Charlotte FC, the league’s latest debutant franchise and the fifth that calls the Southeast home. Ahead of their debut, we took a closer look at the franchise and the Charlotte market to answer whether or not we think Charlotte FC will be a valuable addition to MLS.
For starters, Charlotte’s owner, David Tepper, is one of 150 richest people in the world with a net worth of $14.5 billion. To add context, that’s more than twice that of Arthur Blank ($6.2 billion), whose Atlanta United franchise have three of the top five record transfers in league history. From a financial standpoint, Charlotte FC is on good footing. What else qualifies Charlotte as a worthy addition to MLS?
Charlotte’s demographics are a match for MLS
Before we dive into additional details surrounding the franchise, it’s important to first set up why Charlotte was, at least in part, chosen as an MLS expansion market. One of the more important qualifications any market must have is a sizable Millennial population.
Where does Charlotte fit into the Millennial equation? Among a list of select markets with MLS franchises in the Southeast and elsewhere in the country, you can see below that Charlotte’s median age sits well within the sweetspot of the MLS target audience.
|New York City||36.7|
In 2017, SmartAsset ranked Charlotte as the top market to which Millennial are moving. Five years on, Charlotte ranks ninth in Millennial home buying among a list of the top 100 metro areas in the U.S. Why the influx of young residents? The city being a business hub, a university town, having above average employment in tech and finance, good weather, and good entertainment scene are big factors.
The growth in Millennial population isn’t just limited to Charlotte, however. Elsewhere in the Carolinas, Cary and the greater Raleigh area are great soccer markets in their own right. In SmartAsset’s 2021 list of where Millennials are moving, Cary ranked seventh among cities and the entire state of North Carolina ranking sixth among states.
A contributing factor to the growth of MLS is the job the league and many of its teams have done reaching minority communities. The arrival of Atlanta United to the league and the steps the franchise has taken to showcase local culture in marketing and at games has helped provide a voice to a new wave of fandom from the black community, specifically. While Charlotte isn’t quite Atlanta demographically, the success four hours away may serve as a blueprint to reaching a wide swath of ethnic groups in the Carolinas.
Charlotte is roughly 35% black or African-American and among the total population, roughly 15% of metro area residents are Hispanic. Couple the favorable age demographics with ethnic diversity in a state predisposed to soccer and you can see the potential Charlotte has to offer MLS.
“As someone who spent several years in the market and saw the potential first hand, I think Charlotte FC is bound to make a sizable impact due to the city’s diversity and fast-growing Millennial population. The market has had previous attempts at introducing professional soccer, but never with the amount of investment in infrastructure and community building. Charlotte FC is poised to break that ceiling and become the professional club of choice for a majority of soccer fans in the Carolinas”-Dillon Payne, GESM
Building the Charlotte FC brand
Shifting to the franchise itself, it all starts with a name. The official name of the team is Charlotte Football Club – Charlotte FC for short. As for colors, the team will primarily use four, all of which should come as little surprise given Tepper owns the Carolina Panthers. Carolina blue will feature prominently, as will black, silver, and white. Having branding similar to that of an already-established team, albeit in a different sport, brings a certain level of familiarity and pride – just ask fans of Atlanta United and the Atlanta Falcons.
The crest is circular to recognize the city’s status in the U.S. as a major hub of financial capital, as well as being the first American city with its own branch of the U.S. Mint. Within the circular crest is a four-point crown harkening back to the city’s nickname of Queen City dating back to 1768. The four spires on the crown represent the four wards of Uptown Charlotte.
Charlotte FC Stadium Situation
The twenty-eighth franchise in MLS will play its games at the newly-renovated Bank of America Stadium, a venue Charlotte FC will share with the Carolina Panthers. The $50 million in renovations include, among other things, an improved concourse area, soccer specific locker rooms, a central player tunnel for the soccer team, and a massive LED screen on the exterior of the stadium.
One of the most noteworthy items in the club’s build-up to their inaugural season was the decision to sell Personal Seat Licenses (PSL). Charlotte FC is the first team in the league to require season ticket holders to also pay a PSL fee and, at least initially, there was controversy surrounding the decision.
However, PSLs haven’t stopped fans from purchasing. Earlier this year, Charlotte FC President Nick Kelly stated the club had already sold more than 20,000 season tickets – a number higher than the capacity of many other MLS stadiums. While PSLs may not be right for every market, the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets were among the first sports franchises to introduce them, so Charlotte-area sports fans are already familiar with the concept.
Corporate support for Charlotte FC
In a market home to many financial service companies it’s no surprise that Charlotte FC’s first founding partner was Ally Bank. The online-only bank has a history of supporting soccer initiatives like the International Champions Cup and will serve as the club’s first jersey sponsor.
Centene Corporation also announced a multi-year partnership with the club. Centene is building its East Coast headquarters in Charlotte and is beginning to entrench itself in the community. How? They’re building six new fields and covering the cost of Personal Seat License fees for almost 1,900 seats at Bank of America Stadium.
Most recently, Charlotte FC announced a third founding level sponsorship with Atrium Health that sees the healthcare company become the naming rights holder for the club’s training ground. Atrium’s logo will also be featured on the club’s practice jerseys.
Here’s a breakdown of the franchise’s current sponsors heading into their inaugural MLS season.
|Ally||Founding Partner||Financial Services||Jersey Sponsor|
|Centene Corporation||Founding Partner||Healthcare||Sleeve Sponsor|
|Atrium Health||Founding Partner||Healthcare|
|Bojangles||Official Partner||Fast Service Restaurant|
|Honeywell||Official Partner||Safety Solutions|
|The Redbud Group||Official Partner||Real Estate|
Will Charlotte FC be successful?
The most obvious question to be answered after all of these insights is whether or not we think Charlotte FC will be successful. While a lot of sustained success for any club comes down to the on-field product, the reality is the Charlotte FC franchise has a lot going for it already, including:
- Owner with strong financial backing
- Local sponsor support
- Millennial community
- Diverse residents
- Solid soccer ties in the region
When you couple the demographics with the sweetspot audience for MLS, it’s hard to look at Charlotte and not have lofty expectations of what the market may deliver. If the on-field product isn’t up to snuff, ownership will need to spend money to bring in players, which shouldn’t be an issue.
We anticipate Charlotte FC will be a successful franchise and bring a lot to the table as MLS continues to grow its presence in the Southeast.