Raleigh is competing with Charlotte for a Major League Soccer expansion bid, and Mecklenburg County commissioners might’ve tilted the field in Raleigh’s favor Wednesday night.
At least, that’s how some Raleigh soccer fans are viewing it.
Major League Soccer plans to expand by four teams and investors in Raleigh and Charlotte make up two of 11 groups vying for expansion rights. MLS will announce two new teams later this year and two more in years to come.
The main difference between the two cities’ bids is that the Raleigh group isn’t asking for big taxpayer dollars to build a stadium, while Charlotte’s group hoped local tax dollars would help pay for about half the cost of a $175 million stadium there.
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On Wednesday, Mecklenburg County commissioners offered land for a stadium but declined to extend financial support. Charlotte’s group – led by race track executive Marcus Smith – must now rely on the Charlotte City Council, which recently said it wouldn’t contribute more than $30 million, for the remaining more than $100 million.
Fans of North Carolina FC, whose owner wants to move the Cary NASL team to Raleigh and join the MLS, saw the Mecklenburg vote as a fatal blow to the Charlotte bid.
And some saw a chance to land punches in the ongoing rivalry between residents of the two cities.
“At the end of the day it’s clear Raleigh is the better fit and cares more about having an MLS (team). Especially considering that my social media feeds were flooded with Raleigh folks following the Charlotte vote as opposed to actual people from Charlotte,” said Jai Kumar, a local NCFC fan.
“It’s the most we’ve cared about Charlotte since the Panthers were in the Super Bowl,” Kumar said.
Ryan Jernigan, founder of the Oak City Supporters NCFC fan club, said he was happy with the Mecklenburg commissioners’ vote but not surprised. He says he didn’t feel the need to celebrate because he never took Charlotte’s bid seriously.
“This was a billionaire involved in NASCAR who was trying to take millions from taxpayers,” Jernigan said.
The Charlotte group’s campaign for a team isn’t officially dead – Raleigh’s bid is by no means secured. NCFC owner Steve Malik said he has the $150 million he needs to build a 20,000-seat stadium in downtown Raleigh, but he hopes to build it on state-owned land that lawmakers have yet to relinquish.
It’s unclear whether state leaders Gov. Roy Cooper, state Sen. Phil Berger or state Rep. Tim Moore support the deal. State Sens. Jeff Tarte, a Republican from Cornelius (just north of Charlotte), and Joel Ford, a Democrat from Charlotte who’s running for mayor, have said they think the state government would be playing favorites if it were to help NCFC acquire state-owned land for an MLS team.
Seth Crossno, a Raleigh resident who runs the satire website ITB Insider as William Finley IV, says Tarte and Ford are “grasping at straws” to keep pace with Raleigh’s excellence.
“Charlotte leaders are upset the state might let Raleigh use land for the stadium,” he said. “But I’m upset the state hasn’t sold off Charlotte to South Carolina.”
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