Opinion | MLS hype, a cautionary tale

Charlotte's sports fans have been stung in the past, and MLS has a short leash.
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Christmas is coming early for soccer fans in the Queen City. Charlotte is expected to be awarded the 30th Major League Soccer team on Tuesday.

The city will spend $110 million in tourism taxes to upgrade Bank of America Stadium, where the team will likely play home games. The team headquarters will be at the old Eastland Mall site in East Charlotte.

As a former youth soccer player and South Florida kid with Caribbean parents, soccer was the top sport in our house. On the weekends, my family watched international matches on Telemundo and Univision. As the world’s most popular sport, Olympic soccer brings countries together in a way that no other sport can.

I have to be honest; I have questions about MLS fandom in Charlotte.

Yes, the idea of a new major league sport in town sounds exciting.

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Yes, there’s a large contingent of soccer enthusiasts. Also, I like the idea of bringing the headquarters to East Charlotte, a location where Charlotte’s global communities reside.

When I holiday shop for my nieces, nephews and godchildren, I try to buy them functional gifts. Otherwise, they’ll stop using them by the summer. Like the kids in my life, Charlotte loves getting new, shiny things but doesn’t completely appreciate popular and expensive things we already have.

Each time international soccer matches are played at Bank of America Stadium, thousands make their way uptown to support. However, unlike some other high-profile sports, the world’s top soccer teams and players don’t play in MLS.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar won’t be suiting up for this league – at least no time soon. Maybe when they’re ready to retire and want to play lower-level talent in America.

In South Florida, we had an MLS team, the Miami Fusion. They even added Colombian soccer star Carlos Valderrama to the roster. The Fusion earned multiple playoff appearances and in 2001 was named the Supporters’ Shield Champions for having the best regular season in the Eastern Conference. The following season, the Miami Fusion folded after only four seasons.

Miami’s main problem was building a fan base for a local MLS team, even with a diverse community filled with people passionate about soccer. Attendance was low and the team became a financial burden.

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Since 2002, Charlotte has lost two major professional sports franchises. Low attendance and millions lost in sales led to the relocation of the Charlotte Hornets to New Orleans. The Charlotte Sting, one of the WNBA’s eight original franchises, folded in 2007.

If the NBA and WNBA have had difficulties keeping a franchise in Charlotte, will MLS fare any better?

Kallan Louis is a writer and consultant for qcitymetro.com. He does a lot, but never feels like he’s doing enough. His life can be described as a Venn Diagram: News media, Black culture and sports. He’s always on TV, but rarely seen.

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