Soccer fans rally in Raleigh to show support for chance at new MLS Football club
A group of Major League Soccer officials led by president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott visited Raleigh Wednesday to evaluate North Carolina F.C.’s bid for an MLS team. Here is everything you need to know about the bid and what has to happen for it to succeed.
Q: How many cities is Raleigh competing against for an MLS team?
A: Twelve cities submitted bids to the MLS in January, and the league will add four teams from that group. Besides Raleigh, the other markets vying for a team are Charlotte; Cincinnati; Detroit; Indianapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; Phoenix; Sacramento, Calif.; San Antonio; San Diego; St. Louis; and Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla.
Q: When will the MLS decide whether it will add North Carolina F.C.?
A: The MLS will have a board meeting in New York in December and decide the first two teams it will include from the group of bids by the end of the year. Two more cities will get good news at a later date.
Q: What is the MLS looking for in its evaluation of expansion bids?
A: Abbott said in his visit to Raleigh on Wednesday that the criteria the league are evaluating are the ownership group, stadium plans, fan support and the location and market size.
Q: What did Abbott do in Raleigh on Wednesday?
A: Abbott and his group of MLS officials spoke to local businesses and government officials to gauge support for the city’s bid, toured the stadium site on foot, took a helicopter tour of the city, spoke to the media at a morning press conference and attended an evening rally in front of hundreds of fans. They fit a lot of activity into one day.
Q: Are they touring every city that submitted a bid?
A: Yes, Abbott is spending his summer doing a tour of all 12 cities, and Raleigh was his 11th stop. His group was in Charlotte a day earlier on Tuesday.
Q: Who owns North Carolina F.C.?
A: Tech entrepreneur Steve Malik, who founded the Cary-based company Medfusion, bought the club in 2015 when it was named the Carolina Railhawks. He soon rebranded the team, bought and relocated the North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League and announced his intentions to pursue an MLS franchise last December. Malik was born in Wales, but has spent most of his life in North Carolina and went to college in Chapel Hill.
Q: Where are they planning on building a stadium?
The stadium plans unveiled Wednesday would place the 22,000-seat venue in downtown Raleigh on Peace Street next to Halifax Mall and across from Seabord Station.
Q: How much will it cost and how much will Raleigh residents have to pay?
A: Construction is expected to cost $150 million, but it will be privately funded, and Malik does not expect to depend on taxpayers’ money at all. The team does need some government cooperation, though, since the stadium site is the state’s land and they will need to negotiate permission to use it.
Q: Why can’t the team just stay in the stadium it plays in now?
A: As a part of the North American Soccer League, a tier below the MLS, North Carolina F.C. now plays in Cary at WakeMed Soccer Park, which seats 10,000. This in not enough for the MLS – the smallest of the league’s 22 stadiums has a capacity of 16,000.
Q: How many fans watch North Carolina F.C. play now?
A: Last year, the RailHawks averaged 4,856 fans at their regular-season games, the sixth-most in the NASL. So far this year, North Carolina F.C. has averaged 4,425 fans at eight regular-season games so far.
Q: Why would the MLS think there might be enough fans in the Triangle to support an MLS team?
A: The Triangle’s younger demographic corresponds to the primary audience for the MLS. Raleigh’s Capital Area Soccer League, one of the top youth leagues in the region, merged in March with Triangle Futbol Club Alliance and is now called North Carolina FC Youth. North Carolina F.C. also has a loyal pocket of supporters and a dedicated fan membership group called the Oak City Supporters, as shown by the crowd at Wednesday’s rally.