See below for the transcript of the MLS Introductory Press Conference at the Mint Museum in uptown Charlotte. Emcee and World Cup Champion Heather O’Reilly introduced MLS Commissioner Don Garber, owner David Tepper and Charlotte mayor Vi Lyles.
Hello, Charlotte. It’s so great to be with you all today for this historic announcement, not just for this wonderful city, this state, the region, but for the growth of soccer in North America. My name is Heather O’Reilly and I would like to introduce today’s featured speakers.
Although I’m a Jersey girl by birth, I like to say that I’m a Carolina girl by choice. I came down here for college in the early 2000s, and quite frankly, I’ve never left. Besides representing our country on the U.S. Women’s National Team for 15 years and winning the World Cup and Olympics, I also played collegiately at the University of North Carolina, and with the Tar Heels, we won the NCAA championship in ’03 and ’06, and over the last two years I had the thrill of finishing out my playing career in style with the North Carolina Courage winning the title of the NWSL championship in ’18 and ’19. I guess I’ve won a lot, but I learned to do it right here in North Carolina. So, I’m sure that you can understand how much North Carolina, this community and the incredible game of soccer means to me.
Man, I love this place, and that’s why I’m so proud to be here for this historic occasion. It’s been incredible to watch the MLS and see how far Major League Soccer has come. In 2016, the league had 12 teams, and here we are today to announce the 30th team to join the MLS. It’s sure changed quite a bit since I was a kid with MetroStars tickets in New Jersey.
This will likely be our last announcement, so I think that you’ve one-upped everybody by actually taking the stage and singing – not something I would advise anybody to do at a press conference. It is such a great day for our league, for our sport and for the city of Charlotte, and I really want to thank everybody for joining us here today. The fans who are up there in the balcony, and to so many others who have been such an important part of creating this historic day for our sport. This is a historic day for Major League Soccer. It’s a historic day for the sport of soccer in North America, and it really is a historic day for the Queen City. All of us together and all of you have worked so hard to create this reality, this dream that all of you had to bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte, and we’re going to talk about some of the people that made that happen here today. It’s been a little bit over a year, a relatively short period of time, that our discussions really began to heat up. There are really two words to define our discussions with David Tepper, with your great mayor, and with the leaders of the corporate community, many of who are here today, and those two words are ambition and community. Those are two words that also define Major League Soccer. That’s why it’s the right decision at the right time for our league, for your city, for David Tepper. It’s the coming together of the fastest growing and most diverse professional sports league in North America, and one of North America’s most dynamic and thriving cities. I’m sure that many of you know over the past couple years there’s been lots and lots of interest of cities looking to come into Major League Soccer. In the next three years, the league will welcome five new teams in Miami, in Nashville, in Austin and in Sacramento, and seven new soccer stadiums. That’s unprecedented growth in the history of professional sports. Charlotte has always been a market of interest for us. There’s a great passionate support for the game, there’s a booming job market, and there’s just tons of energy and excitement throughout the city. Most importantly, the city and the Carolinas overall have a growing and thriving population of young people that are reflecting the diversity and energy that’s been powering Major League Soccer for the last 25 years But to get this over the finish line, we’re missing three key components that are crucial to the success of all sports teams, whether they’re here or abroad. And first, we needed a committed and visionary owner who believed in the sport, who believed in your city and was deeply committed to investing in infrastructure in and around the community. Second, we needed a public partnership that ensured that the club and its stadium now, and in the future, will be an important part of the sporting landscape. And third, we wanted to see the club embraced by the corporate community. So, it all started with David. So once again, big round of applause for David Tepper.
It’s no secret that we wouldn’t be here today without his ambition, without his fortitude, without his immense face in MLS, and his commitment to this region. In business, he’s got an incredible knack for identifying valuable assets. He also is a guy that when he believes in something, you know it’s going to succeed, and he was laser-focused on trying to bring MLS to Charlotte. As some of you know, he really believes in this city. He’s made a major investment in the community and in the region, and really believes in the future of soccer in North America, and he’ll even talk a little bit about his history with the game. We’re proud to welcome you, David, to the Major League Soccer family. We’re proud of everything that we are going to count on you to do to drive the explosive growth of our sport and certainly your team here in the community.
And David’s put together a great, talented group of executives that have been working both on the football team, and also working very hard on bringing MLS to Charlotte, so I want to acknowledge Tom Glick and Steve Argeris. We look forward to working with both Tom and Steve in the year ahead to bring this team onto the field in 2021. I’d also like to thank all of our community leaders, and I’m sure the mayor is going to talk about the individually, and particularly the members of the Charlotte City Council. It’s hard to have the courage to make those decisions to make days like this happen. I want to thank you, mayor, and I want to thank your city council for all of your belief in our league and your belief in our city. I think you really will see that this decision will bring jobs to the community, it’s going to bring international exposure, even more so than you have today, and it’s going to be connective tissue for so many different populations that are driving so much of the energy here in Charlotte. I want to thank you in particular, Mayor Lyles. I travel around our country a lot dealing with mayors, and I think mayors are the politicians who get things done in the city. This was a very quick process and when Mayor Lyles pulled us aside and said, ‘I want to bring MLS to Charlotte, I’m going to do what’s necessary to do it, I’m going to form a good partnership and I’m going to be sure that I hold you and your owner accountable to the things that we need to deliver.’ Without Mayor Lyles, we’re not here today, so thank you, Mayor Lyles.
It’s no secret that any of us that are involved in business know that this community has become one of the most vibrant and energized corporate communities in our country. It’s also the home of a couple of our long-time sponsors. It’s the East Coast headquarters of Wells Fargo and for Continental Tire, long-term sponsors of Major League Soccer. Several months ago, I met with a number of key CEOs. The mayor and David and Tom Glick organized a meeting, and all of them pledged their support to the club, but more importantly, talked about the energy in the community, about the desire to get connected with soccer and what soccer can do to empower new communities. Without the support of the corporate community, we wouldn’t be here today.
I also want to particularly thank Ally Financial. Early this year they made a commitment to become a major sponsor of the club. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you.
And finally, to our fans, this really is about you. We’re going to count on all of you to do what you’ve done to support the Mexican National Team, to support the U.S. National Team, to support all those international friendlies at Bank of America Stadium. This is a soccer market. It has one of the most competitive and vibrant youth soccer markets anywhere in North America, and it’s been home to some of the best men’s and women’s programs in all of college sports, not just college soccer. The UNC program is the most successful college program in all of sports, and that a real credit to the embedded community that we have here supporting the game of soccer. You know, fans have been a big part of our decision here today. I want to really say that while you’re cheering all of us on the stage today, we’re going to count on you to form a great supporter group, to buy season tickets, to show your rivals in Atlanta, to show your rivals in Nashville, to show your rivals six hours north in D.C., your new team in Miami, and your team in Orlando that the southeast is one of the great powering markets, regions in North American soccer. So, we’re going to count on you when this team hits the field in 2021. So now, the moment, the best-kept secret in sports, all those great leaks from everybody here in this room. David, I’d like to invite you up to the stage for a really special moment.”
Now it’s my pleasure to welcome Charlotte to Major League Soccer as our 30th team. And now your new owner, David Tepper.
Charlotte, you ready to party? We’re going to have one big party all season long for soccer in Charlotte. Every game, every game, a party.
I better thank a couple people here before I get going or else I might forget it later. I want to thank Don, our partners Don Garber and Mayor Lyles and Jeff Brown from Ally. When Don told me that we were kind of done on the soccer team, I called the mayor up and I said, ‘Mayor, I think I got a present here. I think it’s the most expensive present I ever gave a woman in my life.’ So, I said, ‘Mayor, Charlotte has a soccer team.’ So, you know, people have asked me about my motivation. One of my motivations that, I haven’t really told this story before, I coached my kids for nine years in soccer. I won a lot of first place trophies, and I had a trophy at the end of the season where you had to try to win something and all the teams, even if you had the first place trophy, you still had to try to win the Carpini Cup, and I never could win the Carpini Cup. Always fell short. So, I figured I might have to spend a little bit of money to try to win a different type of cup, so we’re going to try to get this MLS Cup in Charlotte really fast. And nobody told me you could sing on stage here, and I love to sing. I was trying to figure out a song while we were sitting there, and I don’t know if I can, I’m trying to remember if I had a pen I would have wrote it down, it was something like…
Well since I came to Charlotte, I found a new place to live,
It’s going to be the greatest city for MLS to be in.
Listen, this is going to be, for Charlotte to have, for downtown, for summer nights in Charlotte, for Saturday nights in Charlotte, to have games here, for this city to make its city live on the weekends. To bring people and fans down here. Like I said, for the party to be all week long. To have one long summer party celebrating soccer in Charlotte, and the other things we want to do here and, in the community, hopefully we can do with soccer to try and tighten up the community. We talked a little bit about this market and what it means for this market, I think this sport with all the new arrivals that have come to the city, we can kind of tie everybody together. When you talk about this sport, what the power of sport is, we can tie the millennials that have just come into this city, we can tie in different parts of the Hispanic community that really weren’t served by sports here. If anybody has come to a soccer game in the stadium when we had the Gold Cup down here, you can see the diverse crowd there.
That’s what we’re going to do. This is going to tie this city together. There’s going to be new Charlotte. That other city down the road to the west, Charlotte is hot. We’re the hot city. Screw that other city. We’re going to have one hell of a rivalry. You guys up in the rafters here, I’m counting on you guys. We’re going to get it done, we’re really going to get it down. Anyways, I really want to thank everybody that’s here and again thank the commissioner and the mayor, and like I said, we’re just going to get this party started. Thanks, guys.
Mayor Vi Lyles
I don’t know how to get any more energy in this room, but let’s go ahead and try it. You know, I want to thank Dave, I want to thank the commissioner. In 1998, we got our first sports franchise, the Hornets. Right? Here we are. Now, 30 years later, we’re welcoming our third major league team to our city. Now that’s worth a hand clap.
Some people often ask, ‘Why Charlotte?’ Well, what about the ACC football championship? What about the NASCAR Hall of Fame? What about the PGA? And in 2021, when the team is playing, we’re going to host the President’s Cup in golf, so we’ve got sports. We’ve got the 49ers, the Knights, the Checkers. We are a sports city. Oh yeah, we do have the Panthers, exactly, but they came along with soccer. We have the opportunity here today, I want to share my excitement. I’ve got my scarf, I’m waiting on my jersey, because we will be all on this. Commissioner, thank you for all of the energy and effort you’ve put into this. I want to thank the people in this community that supported the opportunity for us to have a place that we know that soccer will work.
I also want to thank Dave, and I want to say thank you to Nicole as well. Dave has been an incredible leader since he came to the city. I had a chance to meet with him very early on and he came here with a big vision, and he’s followed through on it. He’s always keeping the big picture in focus for what we’re going to do. He knows how partnerships work. He continues to work to build the best athletic organization. He always keeps his word. He said that we would have soccer, and here we are today with Major League Soccer and a team. Charlotte thrives on public-private partnerships, because we have a common goal. We know that we’re going to grow our city. We know that sports can be a catalyst for the transformation that we think is important around the ideas of how we are welcoming and diverse and inclusive. I think the other thing I wanted to say thank you, when we talk about change, it’s not just about the team. The headquarters will be at Eastland, and there are new opportunities for transformation on the entire east side, so we’re saying welcome to the east side to everyone. It’s also talking about the investment in our center city, a new entertainment district from the gateway down to the stadium. We’re going to have a place that’s just fun to enjoy. Attractions all over in our center city, especially on those game days.
Now, I don’t do this by myself as mayor of this great city. There are a lot of people in here that voted for me, so I say thanks first for that, but more importantly, you have voted for a group of leaders in this city that have stepped up and stepped out to make this happen. I want to recognize the Charlotte City Council members. I’d like for them all to stand and I’d like for us to thank them.
So, we do this as a team. We know that we’re ushering new opportunities on our east side and on our west side. I’m looking forward to working through all of the challenges that will still come before us. I know that there will be challenges, but as long as we stay with our vision and our partnership and our support, we will make this work. I want to say thanks to the soccer fans that came to all of the exhibition games. I want to thank the soccer fans that go out every Saturday and teach little kids how to play, and all the people in this community that support our opportunities to grow.
This day is really a testament to our city. I look forward to actually having people from other countries, near and far, even our residents to come in and play and support our team. I’m looking forward to that MLS championship as well, Dave. Oh, cup, I’m sorry. I’m going to pay for that one, you know.
I want to say that this franchise is another opportunity for our city to come together as one. Men, women, children, families of all races and backgrounds will sit beside each other, cheering for our Charlotte soccer team. That’s what being inclusive and diverse looks like, and that’s the promise of our city. And that promise got a little bit bigger today. Thank you everyone for being here.