Triangle-area leaders consider future of Carolina RailHawks

The impact of the indictment of Aaron Davidson has left town and local soccer community leaders to consider the future of the Carolina RailHawks.

Davidson, president of Traffic Sports USA, was indicted by the U.S. Justice Department along with 13 others in a 24-year long scheme to gain financially through corruption. The NASL on Wednesday suspended Davidson and Traffic Sports from any business activities with the league.

“I don’t necessarily think it is going to be a bad thing for the club and the people who are down there,” said Richard King, the owner of the XL Soccer World in Raleigh. “This may get them some exposure, and it may be the catalyst they need to get some local owners that would be interested in running the club. That’s what they need.”

XL Soccer Center provides youth soccer instruction for youths and adult soccer leagues. The soccer facility lists the RailHawks as a partner, and King said much of their relationship centers around cross-promotional work between the two. King did not work directly with ownership, interacting instead with RailHawks President Curt Johnson and the team’s front office.

“They’ve been great to work with,” King said. “Everything has been great for the community.”

It is too early to tell what effect Davidson’s indictment will have, Cary town councilman Jack Smith said.

“If, hypothetically, because of this scenario, something would happen (to the RailHawks), the power of the community will help,” Smith said. “It’s like water seeping down into another level. As long as kids keep up their interest, the overall interest (in soccer) will continue.”

Smith and King agree that a local owner could strengthen ties between the RailHawks and the community.

“You hope that it will pass, it’ll settle down and a group will come in and give some stability,” Smith said.

King said potential local ownership targets would be limited.

“(Those who are in favor of local ownership) make valid points, but it is tough to own a soccer team, financially,” King said. “It’s more of a ‘I enjoy the game. I want to give something to the community. I have done well in life,’ type of person.”

Traffic Sports acquired the the RailHawks in 2010. Attendance increased steadily after the RailHawks joined the NASL. The RailHawks have averaged more than 4,000 fans per game in 2013 and 2014, a franchise first.

The NASL, an 11-team league, has lost two teams – the Montreal Impact, which moved to Major League Soccer after its one season in 2011, and the Puerto Rico Islanders, who folded after two seasons due to a lack of funding.

The importance of keeping the RailHawks in the Triangle is two-fold, King said. The RailHawks are the only professional soccer club in the Triangle, and the development of youth soccer in the area depends on having readily available professional soccer.

“Kids need to go to the games for their development,” he said. “Nothing compares to professional soccer and seeing that skill level. They need to have role models.”