Soccer

RailHawks rebrand as North Carolina FC; will seek MLS franchise

Posted December 6, 2016

— Confirming an ill-kept secret, Carolina RailHawks’ owner Steve Malik announced Tuesday that the Cary-based soccer club is rebranding to North Carolina FC. The announcement was made at a noontime event held in downtown Raleigh.

“We looked at a lot of different alternatives, hired marketing agencies, got feedback,” Malik said. “I think we have a strong brand that looks great and polled much better than many of the alternatives. There were many good ones. But at the end of the day, we want to represent the state. I like the professionalism of it and the things we can do with merchandising. It was a very thoughtful process.”

The club also unveiled a new logo reflecting the team’s new color scheme of red, blue and white with gold trim, drawn from the colors on the North Carolina state flag. The logo also incorporates the single five-pointed star present on the flag, with the bottom right portion shaded to evoke the Research Triangle region of North Carolina. The shape of the logo—a diagonally bisected shield—conspicuously apes the design of Major League Soccer’s logo, although a bit more narrow to reflect the shape of an acorn—Raleigh is known as the “City of Oaks.” The acronym “FC” lies between two airplane wings as salute to North Carolina’s slogan, “First in Flight.”

Malik also announced on Tuesday that NCFC will be making an "aggressive public campaign" to get an MLS franchise in the next 12-18 months and hope to be awarded a first-division National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team in the next six months.

North Carolina FC rides the current wave of generalized, location-centric soccer branding MLS apparently prefers, judging by the league’s last five announced expansion clubs: New York City FC, Orlando City SC, Atlanta United FC, Minnesota United FC and Los Angeles FC.

The new name also breaks from the nondescript use of Carolina for sports teams in North Carolina, including the Carolina Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Carolina Mudcats and the RailHawks.

“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," Malik said. "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.”

While not giving out specific details, Malik said the organization hopes to finalize a location and begin construction on a 20,000-seat stadium within the next year.

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

James F. Goodmon Jr.,vice president and general manager of CBC New Media Group, is chair of the Triangle MLS Committee.

Furthermore, North Carolina FC will launch a membership program to enlist community support that will offer "preference." Individual, corporate, and governmental bodies will be able to buy-in to packages that will support the expansion movements.

“I think the dream for any supporters group is to have an owner who has a clear vision of how to move the sport forward locally,” said Ryan Jernigan, president of the Oak City Supporters group. “Since Steve Malik has taken over the team, the energy surrounding the club's future has been amazing. As we've moved into a more stable and professional club, it's great to see our brand and commitments to the sports local growth following suit. It's great to finally see us adopt an accessible brand that draws in the soccer fans of our state.”

In late September, Carolina FC, LLC, the corporate face of the soccer club owned by Malik, registered the word marks “North Carolina FC,” “NCFC,” North Carolina Courage,” and “NC Courage.” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Today’s announcement included Malik’s statement of interest in bringing a National Women’s Soccer League expansion team to the Triangle, and it’s widely believed (though not officially confirmed) that “North Carolina Courage” is the preferred name for that proposed NWSL club.

The RailHawks name and logo were born in 2006 in advance of the soccer club’s inaugural 2007 season. The brand endured for 10 consecutive years, through four owners, two leagues, liquidation of the club’s brand and an international soccer scandal.

As for any new unofficial nickname for NCFC, Malik says that will be the province of the fans.

“We're going to talk with our supporters and let it happen from a grassroots perspective.”

Capitol Broadcasting Company, parent company of WRALSportsFan.com, has rights to broadcast North Carolina FC games on radio and TV and stream them online.

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