Malik rebrands pro soccer in the Triangle with sights on MLS and NWSL franchises

North Carolina FC
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Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

RALEIGH, N.C. – There’s a new pro soccer team in town.

Well, kind of.

During an elaborately presented media event held at Market Square on Tuesday, the Carolina RailHawks morphed into North Carolina FC.

It was a big change, among others, that was announced by team owner Steve Malik.

The ‘New State of Soccer’ was rolled out in video and presentation form and included the charismatic talents of FOX Sports personality Fernando Fiore who livened up the spirits of supporters in attendance before Malik took to the stage.

Owning the team for just over a year, Malik has made many enhancements to the team’s structure and image, off and on the field.

The most significant of those was to bring English Premier League (EPL) side West Ham United to the Triangle to face the RailHawks in a sold out international friendly back in July.

The event signified the first-ever trip by an EPL team to compete in the area.

Focusing on even bigger sights moving forward, the energetic and ambitious owner, having grown up in eastern North Carolina, announced the team’s new brand and its bold initiatives to bid for a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise, build a new stadium, and to establish a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) franchise to begin operation in the coming year.

“This is a brand restatement,” Malik stated.

“We aspire to be at the top level of both men’s and women’s professional soccer, so we are pursuing MLS and NWSL bids as well as a new stadium. We made a conscious decision to brand ourselves as North Carolina’s professional club. A united soccer community will be one of the keys to reaching these goals.”

New name, new look

As a result of the team’s brand repositioning, the now former Carolina RailHawks were officially renamed as North Carolina Football Club, and will be referred to as North Carolina FC or NCFC.

Along with the name change, a new crest and colors were presented in detail.

“We wanted a crest that embodied the symbols that are synonymous with the state of North Carolina,” North Carolina FC president and general manager Curt Johnson said.

“The star, the triangle, the wings and the colors are all nods to the state’s rich culture and tradition.”

MLS ambitions

Malik also announced an aggressive public campaign to be awarded an MLS franchise within the next 12-18 months.

This desire comes after discussions with MLS executives over the last 12 months, as well as a market study which reinforced that the Triangle would be a successful MLS Market.

Even with the name change, the team is and will still compete in the North American Soccer League (NASL), being a league member organization since 2011.

New stadium planning

Malik also stated that he is planning to accelerate efforts to finalize a location and begin construction on a new 20,000+ seat stadium within the next year.

He indicated that that numerous site possibilities existed not only in Raleigh, but in and around the Triangle, and that the final location and renderings will be unveiled in 2017.

“We feel we are well positioned for this,” Malik continued.

“The market is ready for an MLS team based on our geographical location, population growth, dynamic economic environment and significant soccer participation. MLS requires a minimum of 20,000 seats with amenities in order to maximize revenue, and a new stadium is vital to our plans as it would increase the economic impact in the area and allow us to better showcase the sport.”

Adding NWSL franchise immediately

Since taking over the team, Malik has advocated for a multi-team organization.

To that effect, he also announced his desire to be awarded a first-division NWSL team to the Triangle in the next six months.

“We have seen tremendous success in North Carolina with women’s soccer,” Malik said.

“The numerous accomplishments of local college programs, paired with the continued success of the USWNT, have driven interest in women’s youth programs. We feel the time is right to bring the highest level of women’s professional soccer to the Triangle.”

Membership has its privileges

With so much change and evolution taking place, both Malik and Johnson noted that the help of the entire community – individual, corporate, and governmental – was needed to make it happen.

As a result, North Carolina FC will be launching a new membership program to enlist that support.

The program will available to all fans of the club, and memberships are included with all season ticket plans or can be purchased separately by individuals for $49.

Some of the membership benefits include priority preference on seat selection for a new MLS stadium and NWSL franchise, the ability to provide input and vote on items that directly impact the fan experience on game day, and the opportunity for each season ticket member to select three special game day experiences throughout the season.

“There is tremendous value to the membership program,” Johnson concluded.

“Aside from allowing members to secure their priority spot for MLS and NWSL seats at a new stadium, it gives supporters the opportunity to impact the process. The best way soccer enthusiasts, supporters, fans and corporations can help us achieve our goals and be a part of this movement is by becoming season ticket members, sponsors and members of our organization. They would be putting their name and money behind growing the fan base, as well as being a part of the growth of the sport and these historic initiatives.”