Professional Soccer Expansion in North Carolina
Soccer in North Carolina is growing. On December 6, 2016, the Carolina Railhawks, currently part of the North American Soccer League, rebranded to North Carolina FC and announced their plans to potentially move into MLS within 18 months. On January 31, 2017, North Carolina FC officially submitted their bid to join MLS. The Raleigh-Durham area is one of 10 finalist markets for MLS expansion. In order to facilitate a successful transition to MLS, Steve Malik, the owner of North Carolina FC, has been working on securing a location in the Triangle for a suitable stadium. Malik has indicated that he will fund the construction of the stadium, but will be seeking public support for infrastructure related to the stadium. It has been reported that the cost of a new 24,000 seat stadium could be in the range of $150 million. Based on the competition of teams seeking to expand to MLS, Malik has stated North Carolina FC will need community, governmental, and corporate support.
A bid was also submitted in Charlotte on Tuesday by Marcus Smith, the CEO of Charlotte Motor Speedway, despite not having full support from the city. Smith’s plans call for a stadium with an expected cost of approximately $175 million. Mecklenburg County has already approved spending $47.35 million in taxpayer funds for the stadium; however, Jennifer Roberts, Charlotte’s Mayor, cancelled a meeting that was scheduled to discuss matching the County’s investment.
Additionally, in January 2017, it was announced that the Western New York Flash, the current champions of the National Women’s Soccer League, had been purchased by Malik. The team will be renamed to the NC Courage and plan to play in Cary. Based on these recent events, soccer fans have reason to be excited in North Carolina. The expansions will certainly have wide-ranging implications on the community and economy with the exact extent likely becoming apparent in the near future.