The head of the Carolina Panthers’ biggest fan club is behind the creation of a grassroots group meant to garner support for a Major League Soccer team in Charlotte.
Thanks to its well-known reputation, resources and large fan base, the Panthers fan group Roaring Riot gives an added oomph to the newly formed MLS group, Mint City Collective. The new fan group plans to launch its website Saturday. This weekend, it will make its public debut at the CONCACAF Gold Cup games at Bank of America Stadium.
Forming such a fan group is a way to bring together leaders in the soccer community and demonstrate to the MLS that Charlotte can support a team, according to Roaring Riot founder Zack Luttrell and Jay Landskroener. He is a Charlotte Independence fan and former president of the local soccer fan group Jack’s Militia.
Having “strategic plans for fan development” is one of the criteria the MLS has said is required for each market bidding for an expansion team. And Panthers owner David Tepper has made clear that he wants an MLS team in Charlotte.
The Roaring Riot has 40 chapters and over 7,000 members worldwide, according to Luttrell, who founded the group in 2008. It has around 4,000 members within 75 miles of Charlotte, where the majority of the MLS fan base will likely come from, Luttrell added.
“Roaring Riot has a great platform for us,” said Landskroener, president of Mint City Collective. “Charlotte does have a great soccer community to grow. The Riot and their community will help with this whole process.”
Luttrell and Landskroener have been working together for months to engage with groups like Varsity Partners, a local design agency that has helped with Roaring Riot’s branding. They’ll also work on outreach with the Latino community — many of the group’s materials, for instance, will be provided in Spanish and English — and to bring together Charlotte’s other MLS support groups.
Neither Luttrell nor Landskroener were involved in Charlotte’s previous attempt, led by Charlotte Motor Speedway CEO Marcus Smith, to land a team in 2017.
Next month, Mint City Collective will host a tailgate at the Roaring Riot spot on Cedar Street before the International Champion’s Cup between Arsenal FC and ACF Fiorentina at Bank of America Stadium.
Mint City Collective gets its name from Charlotte’s history, Landskroener said.
The Charlotte Mint, established in the 1800s in response to the discovery of gold in the area, was the first U.S. mint branch. Mint is also, of course, the name of the street where Bank of America Stadium sits, too.
“Collective” is a nod to the city’s transplant population, Lutrrell said.
“A lot of transplants may be Steelers or Giants fans, but they might not have an MLS team. This could be a soccer team for everyone,” he said.
The 30th team
Tepper has not been shy about his desire for an MLS team.
This spring, he told the Observer at the NFL’s annual meetings that the Panthers and MLS have engaged in consistent discussions about expansion to Charlotte. Two months after buying the Panthers last summer, Tepper hired as the new team president Tom Glick, who helped launch the MLS team New York City FC in February 2015.
In April, MLS officials announced that the league would be expanding to 30 teams. Early on in the process, the MLS invited St. Louis and Sacramento to submit formal bids, so there’s room for one more market. MLS will select the 28th and 29th expansion teams by the All-Star Game on July 31.
The expansion fee for the 28th and 29th teams will be $200 million; the fee for the 30th will likely be higher.
The MLS board said it will decide on the timetable and expansion fee for the 30th team at a later point. Tepper has not yet submitted a formal bid for an MLS team, Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said.
Along with a fan base, other requirements to land an MLS team include a stadium plan, commitments of corporate support and composition of an ownership group. Tepper has mentioned that a reconfigured Bank of America Stadium could be the shared home of the Panthers and of a Charlotte MLS team.
“When the time comes, we’re going to be in a good position to have our voices heard and have a say in how the (MLS) team is established,” and how game-day festivities transpire, Luttrell said.
“We’re serious about bringing an MLS here and it’s important for us to come together organically to show we support this kind of team.”