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Soccer promoter announces long-term deal to bring more pro games to Panthers stadium

Big time soccer finds a five-year home in Charlotte

Relevent Sports Group announced a five-year deal for Charlotte to host the International Champions Cup and a second event, RSG's House of Soccer festival in uptown.
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Relevent Sports Group announced a five-year deal for Charlotte to host the International Champions Cup and a second event, RSG's House of Soccer festival in uptown.

Relevent Sports Group, which operates and promotes the International Champions Cup soccer exhibition, announced Tuesday that it has signed a five-year deal with Bank of America Stadium to host professional international soccer matches in Charlotte. It’s Relevent’s first long-term deal with any host city.

Relevent also announced that it has picked Charlotte to host this year’s House of Soccer on July 19 and 20. The fan fest is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to Romare Bearden Park. In years past, the star-studded event has included appearances by celebrities such as Drake, Odell Beckham Jr. and Nicki Minaj.

“It’s worth noting that Charlotte is a soccer city, and today is a validation of that,” Carolina Panthers president Tom Glick told reporters after a press conference at the stadium Tuesday.

Daniel Sillman, Relevent’s CEO, told the Observer this week that the announcements underscore the support for professional soccer in Charlotte, bolstering the city’s bid for a Major League Soccer team.

“I think, to be honest with you, they’re really using us in a good way. This is what we’re here for as partners, to prove what they can do in the sport,” Sillman said.

“Our five-year deal, their aggressiveness pitching us to bring House of Soccer to Charlotte versus another city — all these are proving grounds for World Cup, for MLS and all their other plans.”

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Tom Glick, a former pro soccer executive who is now president of the Carolina Panthers, said Tuesday’s announcement validated Charlotte as “a soccer city.” John D. Simmons jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

‘More aggressive’

Including this summer’s game between Arsenal and Fiorentina on July 20, Charlotte will have hosted five ICC matches dating back to 2014. In the past, ICC games have attracted large crowds to the Panthers’ stadium. Last year, an ICC match in Charlotte between Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool drew 55,447 fans.

But the difference this year in signing a long-term deal, Sillman said, was the presence of Glick and billionaire Panthers owner David Tepper.

Glick, who previously worked with Relevent and the ICC during his time as a soccer executive with City Football Group, pushed to bring House of Soccer to Charlotte, Sillman said. City Football Group operates reigning English Premier League champion Manchester City and MLS club New York City FC.

“Our team reached out to them about bringing an ICC match back, and Tom had an interest to look at what a long-term relationship looks like, and we said, ‘Hey, from our standpoint, we’re looking for long-term partners, as well,’” Sillman said. “They’ve been more aggressive than they ever had been in the past.”

The first House of Soccer in Miami in 2017 drew 40,000 fans, and Relevent is hoping for a similar turnout this year in Charlotte.

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Aaron Ryan, chief operating officer of Relevant Sports Group, answers questions from reporters after it was announced Tuesday that Charlotte would host Internationa Champions Cup soccer matches for through 2024. The city also will host the House of Soccer fan fest next week at Romare Bearden Park. John D. Simmons jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

One major factor working in Charlotte’s favor, according to Sillman, is the proximity of Bank of America Stadium to other uptown entertainment and transit.

“What makes Charlotte so compelling is the support of the club, the support of the city, but also the unique logistics that put the stadium so close to the actual attendees,” Sillman said.

Charlotte’s House of Soccer will include live music, food trucks, a Bud Light beer garden, gaming stations and other entertainment. Country singer Walker Hayes will be performing during House of Soccer, and more acts and celebrities will be announced in the coming weeks.

Relevent would not disclose financial terms of its five-year ICC deal with Charlotte. Sillman said that Relevent invests “a couple million dollars” to host House of Soccer each year.

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Rendering of what House of Soccer will look like at Romare Bearden Park when it comes to Charlotte July 19 and 20 ahead of this year’s International Champions Cup at Bank of America Stadium Courtesy of Relevent Sports

Relevent and the MLS

While the ICC making Charlotte its first long-term partner is significant, as is Relevent staging House of Soccer for two days in uptown, the ramifications of these announcements extend even further.

For example, Relevent has worked with several cities in the past as they attempt to secure MLS franchises of their own, including Nashville, Tenn., and Detroit. That assistance includes helping franchises gather data as well as sharing database information that Relevent had previously gathered.

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This spring, MLS officials said that the league will expand to 30 teams in the coming years, opening the door for a potential bid from Tepper and Glick, who helped launch NYCFC in 2015. St. Louis and Sacramento are widely seen as likely to land the league’s 28th and 29th expansion teams, but space remains for one more after that.

Sillman confirmed that Relevent is not currently part of any Charlotte-based MLS expansion bid but said the company would gladly partner with Tepper and Glick.

“I can say that absolutely, the ICC match, House of Soccer, will not only help prove that Charlotte is a contender for a FIFA World Cup game, but also a welcome home for MLS, and as I mentioned, it’s something we’ve continued to help other cities be a part of historically,” Sillman said.

“We’ll see if Tom reaches out to us, but they know that we’re always willing to be a helpful partner.”

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Rendering shows how Romare Bearden Park in uptown Charlotte will be transformed into a mini soccer stadium and concert venue for the House of Soccer fan fest during the International Champions Cup next week. Courtesy of Relevent Sports Group

As the retail and sports business reporter for the Observer, Katie Peralta covers everything from grocery-store competition in Charlotte to tax breaks for pro sports teams. She is a Chicago native and graduate of the University of Notre Dame.
Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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