North Carolina FC has officially joined the growing list of clubs fleeing from NASL.
The club recently announced its plan to start playing in the USL effectively immediately.
“We are excited to be joining the USL effective immediately,” owner Steve Malik said. “The USL has seen tremendous growth, not only in new markets and franchises, but in the quality of play and fan awareness.”
Note the last part of that quote. Fan awareness.
In recent years, the USL has had more success growing its fan bases than NASL. 19 out of the 27 USL teams playing in 2016 and 2017 saw an increase in home attendance this past year.
If Raleigh’s North Carolina FC wants to have a real shot at its grander plan to join Major League Soccer, this is a smart move.
The next smart move will be the stadium location.
One of the main selling points in the North Carolina FC pitch to MLS is market size. The Raleigh metro area has a couple million residents to draw fans from, unfortunately history shows that this doesn’t correlate with fan attendance.
Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and DC all rank in the top 7 among U.S. metro areas but fall in the bottom 7 of Major League Soccer attendance.
Stadium proximity is more important than market size.
North Carolina FC needs to focus on a downtown stadium that appeals to the large number of young professionals in the city. Because Raleigh already suffers from significant traffic challenges in the region, building a stadium within walking distance for its fan base is important.
Fortunately, the team’s investors agree. They are working to move their home field eight miles into the city and build a stadium that would fall smack dab in the middle of the city’s downtown expansion plans.
If the plan works out, we expect the club’s 4,489 average attendance to jump exponentially.