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Orlando City Opted to Avoid Charlotte’s Personal Seat License Stadium Funding Approach

Charlotte FC will become the first MLS franchise to sell personal seat licenses for season ticket holders. Should Orlando have done the same?

Orlando City SC Media Day Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

One of Major League Soccer’s newest teams, Charlotte FC, announced that it will sell personal seat licenses (PSLs) for when the team begins play in 2022. The club becomes the first MLS organization to use this revenue method.

The PSL is the brainchild of now-disgraced former owner of the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers, Jerry Richardson. The man responsible for bringing the NFL to North Carolina used the sales to help build Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

The idea is that potential season ticket holders would lease their individual seats from the team for a fee. That would give them the first right of refusal for all events at the stadium. In order to purchase season tickets, you would first need to pay a one-time PSL fee.

The PSL idea quickly spread around the NFL as other teams were looking to build new stadiums. Today, nearly all NFL teams sell PSLs to those looking to buy season tickets. In most cases, the licensing agreement states that the holder must renew season tickets each season, or lose their license and forfeit their PSL fee. However, PSLs can be sold if the holder doesn’t wish to renew their season tickets.

The fact that Charlotte FC is the first MLS club to use this method isn’t really a surprise. After all, the club’s owner, David Tepper, is also the owner of the Panthers and has been looking to build a new stadium in Charlotte similar to the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. This new building would house both the NFL’s Panthers and MLS’ Charlotte FC.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement that the club will be selling PSLs has been negatively received by fans. Charlotte will already have some of the league’s most expensive tickets, so fans aren’t pleased to see another fee added on. But it does bring up the question of why Charlotte is the first club to take this approach? After all, the idea has been used since the early 1990s. Would this have been a good way for Orlando City to fund its stadium?

When Orlando City was announced as an expansion team in 2013, the league mandated that the USL side build a soccer-specific stadium. After funding for the new stadium stalled in the state legislature in 2015, owner Flavio Augusto da Silva decided the club would find its own way to fund the stadium privately. However, the club brass has said on multiple occasions that they are far from the wealthiest operators in the league.

The funding for the $155 million stadium was going to have to come from somewhere and the club could’ve decided to have the fans help pay for it. In its inaugural MLS season in 2015, Orlando had an average attendance of 32,847 at the Citrus Bowl so the demand seemed to be there. The excitement of a new stadium could’ve been enough to convince fans to pay the additional price.

While there might have been an incentive to use this method to help build the stadium, the negatives outweigh the positives. MLS teams have seen increased fan interest and attendance over the past 10 years but they can’t afford to do anything that would discourage those fans from purchasing their product. Especially since soccer provides so many choices from around the world. It’s why the recent CBA negotiations were so crucial to the league’s success. They can’t afford to drive fans away.

This method of stadium funding has worked in the NFL, but MLS is not the NFL. The NFL is the most popular sports league in the country, so the demand is there. Despite its increased interest, soccer is still growing in the United States.

Also unlike the NFL, which regularly builds stadiums for over a billion dollars, MLS stadiums usually come in at under $400 million. With public money offered and a stadium costing well under $200 million, it would have been tough to convince Orlando City fans that this was anything more than a scam.

Eventually, Orlando City’s operators came up with their own way of helping to pay off Exploria Stadium without moving the burden onto the fans. In 2016, it was reported that the club offered green cards to foreign investors for a $500,000 stake in the stadium using a government program known as EB-5. Da Silva reportedly planned on covering half of the stadium’s cost with this program.

Even though it’s unlikely that any clubs will follow Charlotte FC, business owners tend to follow successful ideas, so the success or failure of the new club’s PSL sales will be watched closely. MLS clubs looking for new stadiums could attempt this scheme to help fund stadiums without the use of tax dollars. Orlando City had this option when building Exploria Stadium but, fortunately for the fans, chose a different approach.