CHARLOTTE—The weather on the morning of December 17, 2019, may have been a little overcast, but the prospects of soccer in the Carolinas shone brightly. On that day, Charlotte celebrated a new chapter in its rich sporting history, with the announcement of its brand-new team.
At the official announcement press conference at Uptown’s Mint Museum, David Tepper was joined on stage by Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, and World Cup-winning Tar Heel Heather O’Reilly. Local media, community stakeholders and a vocal group of excited local fans watched on as history was made.
The team didn’t yet have a name, colors, or technical staff, but on that momentous day, the rumors that had been swirling in U.S. soccer were confirmed: Charlotte officially had a Major League Soccer team.
“During the last two decades, Charlotte has experienced enormous energy and growth, which matches soccer’s explosive rise in popularity in the United States,” said Commissioner Garber during an announcement speech that was complemented by the approving roars of fans who had long waited for this moment. “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.”
Tepper, meanwhile, took a literal approach to kickstarting his new team by punting a ball from the stage into the museum atrium, shortly before the press conference began.
The proud new franchise owner, whose passion from the game stemmed from years of coaching his childrens’ teams to success, received a handshake of approval from Commissioner Garber for a powerful kick that any goalkeeper would have been proud of. (The custodians of the priceless artworks within the museum, however, may not have been so full of praise for the impromptu punting practice.)
The historic press conference may be considered ‘Day Zero’ for Charlotte FC, but in reality, the preparations for the team began in slightly more humble surroundings than the Mint Museum: an unused dining room at Bank of America Stadium.
Yes, this nondescript room in a stadium hallway is where the seeds of the new expansion team were planted...
A small working group, who shared a passion for soccer and a willingness to see it blossom in the Queen City, held clandestine meetings in this room for many months to prepare for the announcement, and lay the groundwork for the club.
“The internal working group was uniquely talented and deeply driven,” says Jessica O’Neill, Charlotte FC Director of Marketing and Communications. “Without the leadership and creative minds we had in that infamous room, and the immediate support from community stakeholders and business leaders, the road to get here would have been much more difficult.”
Bill Voth, Director of Content and Broadcasting at the Carolina Panthers, is often found in Brevard Court watching the beautiful game on a Saturday morning:
“When we sat in that cold room – or warm, depending on the time of year – we knew one thing,” says Voth. “If we landed the team, the celebration had to be at Hooligan’s.”
As was foretold in the unused dining room, Tepper would visit the soccer-centric pub to pull pints and celebrate with locals on announcement day. Before that, though, he set the jubilant tone for the day on stage at the Mint Museum.
“Charlotte, you ready to party?” asked Tepper, to roars of approval from local supporters groups in attendance, including the newly formed Mint City Collective and the local chapter of Pancho Villa’s Army.
“We’re going to have one big party all season long! Every game. Every game a party.”
Arguably, the party started on stage that day, where Tepper proceeded to sing an impromptu Elvis-inspired song from the podium. “I will say it’s the first time we’ve ever had an owner sing at a team announcement,” joked Garber.
(Tepper, incidentally, wasn’t the only person on stage to deliver some dulcet tones: Olympic gold medallist O’Reilly also treated the assembled crowd to a verse from James Taylor’s ‘Carolina On My Mind’.)
Charlotte FC Partnership Sales Executive Mike Mahoney, who spent many hours in the unused dining room, recalls the mood at the announcement:
“The anticipation of the announcement at the Mint Museum was thrilling with the supporters chanting and playing drums, awaiting the arrival of Commissioner Garber and David Tepper to confirm the very thing we had all worked very hard for. It’s a moment I will never forget.”
The press conference atmosphere was heightened by the presence of local fans, including Mint City Collective co-founder Jay Landskroener, who fondly recalls the occasion.
“I remember walking up to the Mint museum in the cold rain,” says Landskroener. “At the steps there were around fifty 50 people decked out in soccer gear. The energy was really intense for so early in the morning—and for a museum!”
"That day was the first time the club came to life," says Alex Schmidt, Charlotte FC Field Marketing Manager. "I’m so glad we had fans at the press conference. They made the energy in that room electric and gave everyone a taste of the party to come!"
After Tepper and Garber crossed the street to celebrate with staff at the headquarters of Ally Financial the party moved to Hooligan’s.
“To me, at least, Hooligan’s is the epicenter of soccer in Charlotte,” says Voth. “When David Tepper poured drinks behind the downstairs bar, and then went upstairs to shout at the crowd below, those were the moments when Charlotte transitioned from a city with soccer fans, to a city with a MLS team.”
Few paid attention to a surprise victory for Aston Villa over Liverpool on the screens at the bar as Tepper mingled with thankful fans, who belted out chants that will soon be heard at Bank of America Stadium:
“I say Charlotte! Is Wonderful! I say Charlotte is Wonderful! We have beers, banks and soccer, I say Charlotte is wonderful!”
Matt Chantry, now vice President of Mint City Collective, was among the fans who squeezed into Hooligan’s on that fateful afternoon.
“After watching Mr. Tepper punt a ball against the back wall at the Mint Museum, it was fantastic seeing him going around the bar, handing out pints and cheering!” says Chantry. “That day, I met lots of new people whom I have stayed in touch with since. I’ve formed lasting friendships among those of us who were brought together by this club from the outset.”
In order to accommodate more of Charlotte’s soccer community, the party then moved to the larger Brewers at 4001 Yancey, where Tepper took to the stage once again to extol the virtues of “the hot city,” while local sports stars including Panthers legend Steve Smith chatted with fans.
“At the party that night, I had to be intentional about taking time to stop and soak up the magnitude of the day,” says O’Neill. “It’s deeply rewarding seeing something go from an idea to a reality and I’ll forever remember what it felt like to truly feel the impact this announcement had on fans looking for a club to call their own.”
“It was all so surreal,” says fan Russell Varner, who followed the party throughout announcement day. “It was hard to believe it was all happening: that we finally had our own MLS team, and that so many people showed up for it. It truly felt like one big party, and a chance for a group of soccer fans in town who were never truly united to come and celebrate together.”
It’s fair to say that Charlotte has come a long way since a group of like-minded individuals held meetings in an unused dining room. But the passion, excitement and belief on display on December 17, 2019 certainly set the tone for a team that the Carolinas can be proud of.
“Everything we’ve done with this team builds on the ground swell that started on December 17, 2019,” says O’Neill. “When Charlotte FC takes to the pitch for the first time ever at Bank of America Stadium, the atmosphere will be more impactful, electric and memorable because of the team and fans we’ve added to the Charlotte FC family over the past two years.”