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Organizer sowing the seeds for Charlotte’s MLB pitch

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(The Center Square) – Geography, population, media market size, and economic growth are some of the primary factors Charlotte MLB Project’s Hayden Peterson is touting to bring a franchise to North Carolina.

With Major League Baseball recently finalizing situations with the Oakland A’s and Tampa Rays, league officials are expected to soon turn their attention to expanding the league from 30 teams to 32. It’s a move Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he would like to have “in place” before he retires in 2029.

Long listed among potential sites for expansion, Charlotte holds significant advantages over others including Nashville, San Antonio, Portland, Salt Lake City and Montreal. Peterson has made it his mission to highlight those to build public support for a conceptual Charlotte Aviators franchise.

“We need to let people know why Charlotte is the best for this,” Peterson told The Center Square. “We really want to get fans involved to show the city and league officials fans want this.”

North Carolina, ninth nationally with a population of 10.8 million, is the only state in the top 10 without a MLB team. It is home to the NBA Hornets, NFL Panthers, and NHL Hurricanes, which ranks seventh in average attendance as a nontraditional sport for the south.

The state’s 10 minor league baseball teams – two Triple-A, four High-A, and four Single-A – also post strong attendance. The AAA affiliate of the White Sox, the Charlotte Knights, play in uptown Charlotte and ranked 10th in the minors for attendance last season.

The strong fan support, coupled with Charlotte’s status as a financial center, 20th largest television market, and location along the border with South Carolina, has convinced Peterson and others “we would have no problem pulling from a Charlotte fan base” to fill seats.

“We’re ranked 15th in the country for metro area,” he said. “You could be pulling from North and South Carolina markets.”

It’s a similar pitch that helped the late Jerry Richardson land an NFL franchise three decades ago.

A marketer by trade, Peterson launched a Facebook page and polled fans on team names and uniform designs last year. Since, he’s used paid advertising on social media to swell followers to more than 1,800, attracting media attention both locally and from national outlets like ESPN.

But unlike other cities including Nashville and Raleigh that are building partnerships to court a team, a coordinated public push has not yet materialized in Charlotte, Peterson said.

“Our biggest support has come from national media outlets,” he said, adding that the Charlotte MLB Project has not worked to build collaboration between stakeholders and elected officials. “That’s out of our realm. Right now, our realm is awareness.

“The only one attached to professional baseball in North Carolina is the Carolina Hurricanes owner,” Peterson said.

Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon announced plans in October to build support to bring a MLB team to North Carolina, with a preference for Raleigh, home to his NHL franchise. Organizers with his effort in the state capital are already working on land options for a stadium, and working with consultants seasoned in expansion planning.

While Dundon prefers Raleigh, he’s expressed support for Charlotte, as well, if it makes more sense.

Charlotte City Council members, including members of the city’s economic development committee, did not return requests for comment from The Center Square. Peterson said there’s been no communication with the Charlotte MLB Project.

Janet Labar, president of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, also did not return a request for comment.

League observers have speculated it’s unlikely MLB will expand with two teams in the East, and many consider Nashville a frontrunner. Peterson agrees an organized effort by an ownership group in Nashville bodes well for the city, but suggests there may be more to expansion than adding to what exists.

“MLB has said there’s going to be a huge realignment,” he said. “That tells me two East teams might not matter.”

“Nashville and Charlotte, in my opinion, stand out above the rest,” Peterson said.

He plans to continue to make the case for the Charlotte Aviators with a new website, sponsored by North Carolina businesses including Bojangles’, Atrium Health, Cheerwine, Bank of America, and others.

There’s also plans in the works to connect with Dundon, and to invite public officials to an upcoming fan event to illustrate public support, Peterson said.

“It’s definitely about fan awareness. The fan base has to push for it,” he said. “It’s just about getting everyone on the same page.”

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