Two new expansion teams are entering MLS this season, but many more are still to come. Twelve cities have come forward to announce their candidacy. One candidate is Raleigh/Durham, led by the re-branded North Carolina FC. Formerly the Carolina Railhawks, NCFC play in Division II NASL. Last season they placed seventh overall led by head coach Colin Clarke, a former Northern Ireland international.
MLS Expansion Profile: Raleigh/Durham
Ownership Group and Stadium Plan
North Carolina FC are owned by Stephen Malik. Malik owns local medical software company Medfusion. Medfusion was sold to Intuit for $91 million in 2010, but Malik bought back the company three years later. He also owns the North Carolina Courage of the NWSL, whom he purchased moved from Western New York this winter. The team’s former ownership group, Traffic Sports USA, was involved in the scandal that removed Sepp Blatter as President of FIFA.
With regard to a stadium, Stephen Malik and the rest of the ownership group are working on a stadium. The stadium doesn’t have a location, but there are eight sites under consideration and the goal is to have it built in two to three years. The cost will be about $150 million. It will be privately funded with some public support on infrastructure and parking. NCFC currently play at WakeMed Soccer Park, but that stadium only holds 10,000 people.
Current Soccer Environment
There are no other professional teams that operate in Raleigh/Durham, other than the Courage, but college soccer is big there. The Courage were named after the Carolina Courage, a team from the defunct Women’s United Soccer Association. UNC-Chapel Hill Men’s Soccer made it into the semifinals of the NCAA tournament this year, and also sent several players to the pros. This year, Colton Storm and Walker Hume were taken by Sporting KC and FC Dallas respectively. The UNC Women’s team also lost in the NCAA semifinals.
The USMNT doesn’t play in this area very often. The last time they played in Raleigh/Durham was in 2006, where they drew Jamaica in front of 8,000 supporters. While the USMNT don’t often come to North Carolina, the USWNT frequently play matches there. Since 2000, they have played six matches there and won all of them. In addition to national teams, the most people to ever attend WakeMed Soccer Park was in 2016 when 10,125 people attended the Railhawks friendly against Premier League side West Ham United.
Other Contributing Factors
The biggest limit to North Carolina receiving an MLS team is HB-2 (aka the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act). This act states individuals may only use the bathroom listed on their birth certificate. The issues with this law arise for transgender people because they identify with a different gender than listed on their birth certificate. Lawsuits are currently underway to repeal the law, but many organizations have pulled, or are considering pulling, sports games from North Carolina. For example, the NCAA is considering moving six years of tournament games out of North Carolina and the NBA moved the 2017 All Star Game to New Orleans because of the bill.
Economically, there are 14 Fortune 500 companies with headquarters in North Carolina. Some notable companies include Bank of America and Lowe’s. North Carolina also has low taxes, which could help make the cost of the stadium affordable.
Overall, North Carolina FC would have a pretty good chance of getting a team if not for HB-2. Many other organizations have withdrawn from North Carolina because of this bill, and it doesn’t seem that MLS would want to enter that environment. However, with a new Democratic governor in control, the law could be repealed. If Governor Roy Cooper repeals the law, MLS would have no problem entering the market.