Major League Soccer is in the final stages of adding Charlotte as the next destination to receive a franchise, Commissioner Don Garber said at the league's board of governor's meeting in New York on Thursday.
Billionaire hedge fund manager David Tepper, who also owns the Carolina Panthers, led the presentation in front MLS officials, including deputy commissioner Mark Abbott, one of the key figures on the league's expansion committee. Garber said board members were impressed by Tepper and are authorizing the committee to finalize negotiations.
"We've got great confidence that it'll be a great city," Garber said. "When David came in, there was a great level of support for his presentation, and for everything he hopes to achieve there.
"I think our board really appreciated all the detail they provided," Garber added.
Tepper, who paid $2.2 billion to purchase the Panthers in 2018, is expected to pay an entry fee that could exceed $300 million to land a club in Charlotte.
One holdup to make the move official is Bank of America Stadium. Tepper's group, which includes Panthers team president Tom Glick, did not receive the final approval they need to ensure "MLS-ready" improvements to the stadium, Garber said.
According to the Charlotte Business Journal, Tepper's group will also need to receive approval from city officials for $100 million in taxpayer revenue that will fund changes to the stadium.
One of the issues that need to be addressed at the 75,000-plus seat football stadium is figuring out how to conceal seats, especially near the top of the facility. MLS doesn't expect to draw as many fans consistently to the stadium and doesn't want extra seats showing during broadcasts.
"We've got to get the stadium right," Garber said.
Speaking to Charlotte-based NBC affiliate WCNC-TV, Glick, who assisted in starting the MLS' 20th team NYCFC, said he feels "optimistic" a deal will be reached with city officials leading to final approval by the league.
"We're working tirelessly to try to make this happen," Glick told the station.
Added Garber: "We've got confidence in David Tepper and his management group and confidence in the city leaders that they'll continue to want to support the efforts to bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte."
Though the MLS approved final negotiations with Tepper's group, Garber said the league would keep an open dialogue with Las Vegas and Phoenix officials, who were also in the running to receive a franchise.
Garber said the goal is to "finalize something by the end of the year," with Tepper's group, but cautioned it could be delayed well into 2020. Once approval is granted, Charlotte will become the fourth city rewarded an MLS club over the last year, joining St. Louis, Austin, and Sacramento.
Entering its 25th season, the MLS will also see two new clubs (Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF) make their debuts in 2020. The league hopes to have a Charlotte club in place by the 2021 season.
"We believe it's a growing city on the rise," Garber said, "and one that has got so much opportunity for us to be able to continue to expand our league."