As the Carolina RailHawks struggle on the field – the team is 1-6-2 (W-L-T) in its last nine contests – and the franchise looks for a potential buyer, the most diehard of fans are growing restless.
Triangle Soccer Fanatics (TSF), an independent supporters group located in section 309 renowned for their rambunctious in-game drumming and cymbal clashing, have been the chieftain of protests against Traffic Sports USA, which owns the RailHawks.
TSF was already opposed to Traffic’s involvement – or lack thereof – before company president, Aaron Davidson, was one of 14 world soccer figures indicted by the U.S. Justice Department in May. Davidson was accused of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice, among other charges.
For home matches, TSF now holds signs saying “Traffic Out.” One includes a drawing of Davidson.
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Traffic Sports USA purchased the RailHawks trademark in January 2011 after former owners had dissolved the team. Traffic once owned multiple teams in the North American Soccer League but only the RailHawks remain. Davidson had talked publicly about selling the RailHawks and said there had been negotiations that hadn’t panned out.
“(Traffic) bailed us out five years ago, but they’ve maintained the status quo for five years while…we’ve stayed stagnant while the rest of the country’s soccer teams grow,” TSF president Jarrett Campbell said. “We really need someone to invest in the team that is committed to the local RDU community and has a vision for soccer here.”
“The fact is that (Traffic is) still here, they still own the RailHawks, they’re still paying the bills here, but not much else,” Campbell said.
Fans won’t be satisfied until real changes are made off the pitch.
“You throw the indictments in, and (Traffic) can’t even provide the meager resources they were providing before,” avid fan Jeff Woodhead, 36, said. “You can’t say we’re a small market, the Triangle has 2 million people ... and yet Traffic never put the budget together to market us, we should be filling (WakeMed Soccer Park) every game.”
Team president Curt Johnson runs all day-to-day operations and is optimistic that a change in ownership is imminent.
“We have dialogue going with quite a few groups, which I’m pleased with,” Johnson said. “We have a mix of prospective owners, some are local, but some are as far away as Europe or South America.”
“My hope is the same as what the fans want, we all want to find a world-class owner who will help move the organization forward … and we want it as soon as possible.”
However, it’s seemingly unanimous that a local investor is what the fans are yearning for.
“Anyone but Traffic would be an improvement, but I am weary of it if there’s no local contribution. You could get the disaster they’ve had in Fort Lauderdale this year where … Ronaldo and South American investors have made a mockery of it,” Woodhead said.
“Soccer, at its core, is a community sport, it’s about the town and the people,” Campbell said. “The right resources and the people have to be put in place for it to work, and we’ve never seen that from Traffic.”
Regardless of who takes over the helm at ownership in the RailHawks, Campbell acknowledged he would like to see a fan ownership system put into place similar to “Rangers First,” a fan initiated group in Scotland.
“Especially (if the investor is not local), I would like to talk to them about TSF creating a community trust, an investment in the team by the fans themselves.”
Nacho Novo, who made a name for himself as a striker for the Glasgow Rangers, is one of the members of the group who have bought shares in the Scottish club.
“When you see the uniting of fans, that’s how it should be, and that’s what Rangers has been doing,” Novo said. “It has been working; its been doing really well … I support them 100 percent.”
While the protests of garnered the attention of press across the country, including the New York Times, it may be too early to deem TSF’s efforts a success.
“I’m glad it’s getting attention,” Woodhead said. “We’ll see the affects of it when we get new ownership, all the exposure in the world isn’t going to matter until we get dedicated ownership.”
Until that time comes, Chris Walker, 36, makes it clear that him and all the other fans will never withhold their support from the RailHawks.
“We’re still supporting the team on the pitch, all this has nothing to do with them,” Walker said. “We just want this team to continue into 2016 and beyond that. We’re behind the team playing right now 100 percent.”
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To learn more about Triangle Soccer Fanatics and their objectives, you can visit their newly-renamed website, TrafficOut.org.