Mar 19, 2022 - Culture

Creating Charlotte FC’s electric atmosphere

Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC

“Charlotte, are you ready to party?”

Those were the words from David Tepper as he looked up at fans at the Mint Museum Uptown on the dreary December day 2019, when Major League Soccer awarded Charlotte a franchise.

It became a mantra for the front office.

  • “To be successful for the long haul, we need to provide an environment people want to come to, win lose or draw,” Charlotte FC president Joe LaBue told me. “We’ve got the marching orders to create a party every single match.”

Why it matters: The biggest sporting event in town feels more like a party than anything else. That spirit — filled with smiles, music and pure emotion — was alive in Uptown when 74,479 fans gathered at Bank of America Stadium to watch Charlotte FC’s inaugural home match.

  • So how did they do it?
  • LaBue, who worked on the Panthers side for 10 years, added it was a combination of begging, borrowing and stealing the best parts of Panthers and college football games, plus concert elements.

Here’s a glimpse behind the scenes at the people who helped make soccer the liveliest party in the city.

The first thing most people noticed wasn’t the field or the renovations: It’s the music.

DJ Fannie Mae, a Raleigh native, was hired to DJ the team’s announcement party in 2019.  Now she’s Charlotte FC’s official DJ, and it’s her first time as a team’s DJ.

  • She carries the prematch experience with club-vibe music.

Unlike some events where the person controlling the music is behind the scenes, DJ Fannie Mae is on the pitch.

She creates not only a personality behind the atmosphere, but stakes a claim to representation for women, particularly Black women, within a sport often criticized for lacking diversity.

  • “I’m going to always stay true to myself and also always remember that kid on Beatties Ford [Road] or back home in south Raleigh, because I’m a part of them all and representation matters,” DJ Fannie Mae told me.
  • And people want to go to matches because of her: Charlotte artist Carla Aaron-Lopez, who posted on her Instagram story she wants to go just to see DJ Fannie Mae spin.

Flashback: DJ Fannie Mae moved to Charlotte from Raleigh nearly 10 years ago. As a licensed esthetician, her focus was still on the beauty industry at the time. It was a sustainable 9am-5pm job, allowing her to build her name and resume as a DJ.

Al Raitt is sort of the wizard behind the curtain at Bank of America Stadium.

DJ Fannie Mae as fans began to pour in on March 5. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios

He joined the club in late 2021 and is the director of event presentation and production. The Irvine, California native has been in game entertainment for over 15 years, helping launch three MLS clubs along the way: LAFC, Austin and now Charlotte.

  • But soccer-specific stadiums, Banc of California Stadium holds 22,000 and and Austin FC’s Q2 Stadium’s capacity is 20,738. Bank of America Stadium, which holds 74,867, was built for an NFL team in 1996.
  • “Having that massive audience, you have to pull out all the stops possible,” Raitt told me of preparing for March 5.

They’ve been empowered to do things differently in Charlotte, Raitt told me, including with the prematch hype video by award-winning Tri Glass Productions, which works with teams across MLS, NBA, NFL and NHL.

Al Raitt, Charlotte FC director of event presentation and production. Photo courtesy Charlotte FC
  • The video is cinematic in nature, focusing on futuristic royalty, with a Game of Thrones-meets-soccer feel.
  • The video has several hidden gems for you to look for next time you’re at a match. Look closely at the sconces, for instance, because they’re the same ones at the stadium.

You can also expect to hear the instrumental beat from “No Church in the Wild” by Jay-Z, Kayne West, Frank Ocean and The-Dream every match right before players walk out.

  • Raitt compared it to the old theater trick of dimming dimming the lights to let people know the show is about to start.

What’s next: Charlotte FC host New England Revolution on March 19 at 7pm.

  • Bank of America Stadium’s upper deck will be closed off for most Charlotte FC matches, putting capacity around 32,000.
Behind the scenes during Charlotte FC’s prematch video. Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC
  • As of Tuesday, they were on pace to exceed 30,000 tickets sold for Saturday’s match, LaBue told me.
  • The team is still looking for several firsts, including their first goal at their home stadium, and their first win.

The bottom line: We’ve all been craving experiences that make us feel alive amid the pandemic, and Charlotte FC delivered that.

Photo: Travis Dove/Axios
Photo: Travis Dove/Axios

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