North Carolina Football Club continues to grow soccer in Raleigh

The North Carolina Courage announced their expansion into downtown Raleigh as the club continues to grow its presence in the Triangle Area.

North Carolina Football Club, the parent organisation of the NWSL Champions, the North Carolina Courage, held a press conference on Tuesday morning to announce their intent for large scale development in downtown Raleigh. The project aims to transform the landscape as a hub for sports and entertainment in the city.

The downtown Raleigh area hosts several sports stadiums but many belong to colleges such as North Carolina States Carter-Finley Stadium. The PNC Arena, home of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, is the only stadium in the city dedicated to a professional sports team. The lack of venues makes the NCFC proposal one that requires serious consideration.

The Venue

NCFC’s entertainment hub would sit on 55 acres of land located on the southern edge of Downtown Raleigh, a space that is vacant and right off the Interstate. The proposed open-air stadium would boast 20,000 seats, twice that of the team’s current stadium, WakeMed Park. The stadium would be used by all the teams that fall under the NCFC umbrella including the NC Courage, the men’s USL side and NCFC U23, the club’s USL League two team.

The venue would not only be used exclusively for soccer, as mentioned by John Kane of Kane Realty Corporation and Steve Malik owner and chairman of the organisation, but the proposal also emphasised the versatility of the stadium which could host concerts, festivals, graduations, trade shows and other major sporting events.

North Carolina FC to MLS

It is no secret that North Carolina FC has been gunning for a spot in Major League Soccer. Malik himself has expressed to the media his vision for soccer in Raleigh and that the lack of basketball or football in the city provides an open market.

The #919toMLS campaign is one that has been around for quite a while now. It also won’t be going anywhere any time soon. Other cities such as Miami, Florida and Austin, Texas have been granted their go-ahead making Malik even hungrier.

The new stadium and infrastructure would be appealing to those in power at MLS, showing that the club has plenty of resources and is in it for the long haul. An attractive entertainment district makes the expansion into the Triangle Area coupled with support from both the city and state level a more lucrative investment.

Growth of Soccer in the United States and Raleigh

The proposal of such a large scale initiative shows how rapidly soccer is growing in Raleigh and in the United States. Teams chose to occupy stadiums based on their projected attendance and, with a proposed stadium of nearly double the capacity, NCFC must have a viable method to the madness.

Earlier this week, the rumour of a USL team in San Diego spearheaded by American great Landon Donovan continues to have some truth to it all, once again a clear indication of the traction soccer is gaining.

A poll conducted by Gallup in 2018 found that soccer now draws the attention of 7% of Americans as the country’s favourite sport to watch. Comparatively, baseball sits at 9% just two per cent higher, a sport that is deeply rooted in the countries culture.

The attention garnered by soccer is unprecedented according to the study. Only once before has another sport other than baseball, football or basketball registered higher than 7% as America’s favourite sport to watch. The only other sport to have done so was auto racing, which took place in 1997.

The move from Cary (where WakeMed Park is currently located), to Downtown Raleigh, illustrates the direction NCFC and the NC Courage is moving towards. The NC Courage has boasted plenty of success in the NWSL after their move in 2017 from New York. In their first season, they finished as runner-ups and won the title one year later in 2018.

The Courage will also partake in the  Women’s International Champions Cup tournament which they won last year. This year, the tournament will take place at WakeMed Park where they will face Manchester City, Olympique Lyon and Atletico Madrid. Once again, North Carolina soccer presents itself to the American and global stage.

NCFC is also the largest organization in the United States that hosts youth-to-professional soccer with 14, 000 registered players. Established just three years ago, in 2016, incredible only begins to describe the strides that this organisation has made in such a short span of time.

If all goes well at the local and State level, NCFC hopes to break ground in early 2020 with the first phase completed by 2023, which includes the stadium.