by Joe Schwartz
Today, without talking to the media, the club made the biggest statement it could.
They put the “Carolina RailHawks” trademark for sale on eBay and posted all of their other assets—jerseys, desks, computers, TVs, memorabilia, even the mascot’s uniform—on Craigslist and eBay. (The Craigslist posting seemed to be down Friday morning. You can also try here.)
Bidding on the RailHawks name starts at $500. At the time of this post, there were three bids. The other items, ranging from a train horn sounded when the team scored to a set of crutches to all of the scarves collected from opposing teams, are available for viewing at the soccer park until Sunday, when bids must be finalized.
Cary might still have a team to call its own, though. Traffic Sports USA, part of a Brazil-based sports management firm, has been negotiating to run the franchise. If they buy the Carolina club, they would own four of the eight teams in the NASL, which is still fighting to earn sanctioning from the United States Soccer Federation for the 2011 season.
The new owners must reevaluate the business model, though. Under the ownership of majority stakeholder Selby Wellman these last two years, the team’s roster ballooned to 30 players in a sport that permits only 18 players to suit up for games. That’s thousands in additional salary, insurance, housing and, in the case of foreign players, immigration fees.
In professional soccer, there’s often little correlation between sane business practices and success on the field. European giants like Manchester United and Barcelona often have chaotic, debt-ridden books, generally because they spend imprudently on top talent. But big clubs can get away with it because there’s usually someone to bail them out.
In the small-time world of North America’s lower leagues, however, managing the expenses is more difficult, especially given the size of the continent: Away games in Vancouver can cost as much as $15,000 for team travel. That adds up quickly because the team has competed in leagues with Montreal, Puerto Rico, Seattle, Miami and Austin, Texas.
With the slate wiped clean, and with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers providing a prominent example in advance of next week’s Super Bowl, perhaps its time for the Triangle’s soccer supporters to consider a community-owned nonprofit model. Such a model would be difficult to capitalize, of course, but at a minimum, it would prevent a club from amassing major debt on the player side and it would better cater to fans at the gate.
As one longtime Triangle-based soccer executive told us recently, “A soccer team can be more than just casual entertainment; it can mean something much deeper to a community.”
That’s the take of Jim Houghton, who was the RailHawks’ chief operating officer in 2010, following a career that includes stints with the Carolina Courage women’s soccer team, which lasted for three seasons in the Triangle.
Houghton spoke to us for the first time since his departure from the RailHawks in this story we published in our print edition this week. In addition to Houghton, we spoke with two other prominent local soccer community members: former RailHawks player Caleb Norkus and Triangle Soccer Fanatics founder Jarrett Campbell, who coined the team nickname that is now for sale online.