by Neil Morris
The all-day event will take place Thursday, April 12. Among those representing MLS will be President Mark Abbott and Will Kuhns, the league’s director of communications. Joining them will be various officials for the Carolina RailHawks, David Downs, commissioner for the North American Soccer League and Aaron Davidson, Vice President of Traffic Sports USA, the current owners of the RailHawks.
According to Johnson, the day’s events will begin around midday with an open lunchtime fan forum, at a local eatery soon to be determined, where soccer supporters will have the opportunity to discuss and pose questions to the visiting officials. That will be followed by a reception for civic and business leaders to meet and interact with the guests, and then a midafternoon media roundtable likely to take place at WakeMed Soccer Park.
“It’s basically an open forum on pro soccer in the Triangle, and honest discussion about where we want to go,” says Johnson. “It’s about where we as executives, an owner, a commissioner, MLS president, fans, and civic and business leaders collectively want this to go. And if you look around the country and see what’s happening in other places, we need to make some of those decisions here pretty quickly.”
Johnson has already previewed the event recently at the Cary Sports Alliance quarterly meeting and a Greater Raleigh Sports Council networking event at WakeMed Park earlier this week.
The visit is similar to ones MLS has made to markets such as Orlando and Miami over the past year. It is widely known that MLS plans to add a 20th team in the near future and is perhaps eyeballing a return to the Southeastern U.S., where the league currently has no team but once counted the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny as members. Other markets such as New York, Atlanta and Minnesota have made overtures towards possibly garnering an MLS expansion franchise.
Indeed, MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said the league would like its 20th team to be in New York City. However, MLS isn't likely to wait indefinitely for an organization and soccer-specific stadium to be built in the city. Putting a footprint back in the Southeast could take priority first if New York doesn't get its act together.
“Really what it boils down to are three things,” Johnson explains. “Do you have a marketplace that MLS is interested in coming to, do you have an owner with deep, deep pockets that’s interested in investing and do you have a stadium of [MLS] caliber? … In some ways, not to over simplify, but we’re one person’s decision away from [the Triangle] being an MLS marketplace, where the right person says this is a market I want to invest in.”
Next month’s event will be the Triangle’s first public forum attended by high-ranking MLS officials. It also takes place two days prior to RailHawks’ 2012 regular season home opener against the Atlanta Silverbacks at WakeMed Park.
“We have a unique opportunity with the people we’re hosting on April 12 to show them the color and passion for the sport and the RailHawks,” says Johnson. “It’s a time for all of us to come together, roll out the red carpet and put our best foot forward. Let’s show that this is a special marketplace for the sport.”