Baseball fans in Raleigh voice support for team that doesn't exist in hopes of landing MLB expansion

Michael Perchick Image
Wednesday, April 3, 2024
MLB expansion talk excites baseball fans in Raleigh
Baseball fans packed Trophy Brewing & Taproom on Mayfield Avenue in Raleigh to support a team that does not yet exist.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, baseball fans packed Trophy Brewing & Taproom on Mayfield Avenue to support a team that does not exist.

"Just to see everybody show up, off a hope and a prayer tells you volumes. So imagine there actually is a tangible team here what would happen," said Jimmy Ray, who grew up in Raleigh and donned an "R" baseball cap.

It was one of several popular sellers at the event, which drew a massive crowd and seemingly never-ending lines of people willing to buy apparel for simply the idea of an MLB franchise calling Raleigh home.

"The data's here, the culture's here, the history of baseball is here. So what's stopping us," said Lou Pascucci, one of the founders of the grassroots group MLB Raleigh.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he wants a plan in place to add two teams by 2029, with Raleigh viewed as a possible destination.

"There's a huge passion for baseball here," said Pascucci.

Since starting the push, organizers have tailored their pitch, highlighting data they feel makes Raleigh stand-out.

SEE ALSO | New post-pandemic Census data shows rapid growth in and around Triangle

The Triangle's growth continues to outpace much of the country, and it turns out some nearby counties are growing even faster.

"MLB is going to look at some viability metrics. Do you have the population to fill seats? When you look at that number, we're right in the mix of small market baseball. We're bigger than some of the teams: Cleveland, Milwaukee," Pascucci explained.

Raleigh is also the country's 22nd largest media market, and has quickly jumped up the Nielsen DMA rankings.

"Media market makes 23% of revenue from Major League Baseball, so that's important. And then you have this area flush with all kinds of talent coming out of the universities," noted Pascucci.

With a median metro household income over $90,000, one of the country's fastest-growing populations, and warm temperatures, the vision of Major League Baseball in Raleigh becomes easier to see.

The ace-in-the-hole that could set Raleigh apart from other bids: Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon.

"I don't have $1,000,000,000. None of our group is going to be involved in that part of things, but we are going to help with the community. We are going to help with the merchandise and stuff like that and continuing to build this thing," Pascucci said.

Dundon has openly discussed the possibility of being involved in such an effort, though through a Hurricanes spokesperson, declined to offer a statement or participate in an interview on the topic with ABC11.

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Duke Energy wants to expedite plans to build a new hydrogen-capable natural gas power plant in Person County.

"If he indeed comes out and says, 'I'm going to be a part of this ownership group,' that's something that's going to put Raleigh ahead of many of the other cities that they're competing with," said Dr. Mike Edwards, an Associate Professor of Sport Management at NC State.

Edwards spent a decade in professional baseball, working in business operations as part of the Cleveland Guardians minor league system.

While there are plenty of positives to a potential bid in Raleigh, there are also challenges.

"I believe that one of the things that may hurt Raleigh is the lack of a large corporate market with a lack of Fortune 500 companies. I know in speaking with folks that are in Major League sports where they're looking for markets as it becomes a very important driver. So it's essentially ownership. Do we have a commitment for a stadium or an arena? And what is the corporate market look like? They're looking for corporations to buy a significant amount of tickets, sponsorships, suites, and even with new sort of trends and ticketing and corporate market becomes very important," Edwards explained.

Further, public transportation options, while growing, remain limited, with the federal government unwilling to financially back local commuter rail.

"Major League Baseball is different than most other sports. It's not like the NFL where you can draw from a much larger regional footprint for only 10 games a year or whatever they're hosting. You have 81 home games that you've got to try to draw from and to having that easy access, particularly weeknight games with a large urban core, with it, with transportation infrastructure to make it easy, I think that that becomes important," said Edwards, who noted a Raleigh team could find success with a layout similar to the Braves, which has an entertainment district around Truist Park in Cobb County, Georgia.

SEE MORE | ABC11's Boomtown series tracks the impressive growth in central North Carolina

During a one-on-one interview with ABC11 in December, Governor Cooper discussed the idea of an MLB team in Raleigh.

"There's no secret that I love sports, but I also see sports in North Carolina as an economic driver. We've seen professional sports put money in the pockets of every day North Carolinians. The Hurricanes, you wouldn't think that a hockey team could come to North Carolina and be successful, but it has. We've seen how it's positively affected our economy. The one thing we don't have yet is Major League Baseball, and I'm really excited about that prospect. I have talked to Tom Dundon about it. He's excited about the prospect. i don't know how real it is at the moment, and clearly we've got to find the right time and space and get the investors put together, but I think it's a very positive move for our state," Cooper said.

For supporters of the idea, events like Saturday serve as validation of the passion and interest.

"Great day like today, would love to be at a baseball game, from the hometown, from the home state where we could sit, cheer them on. Same way we do with the Canes man. I'd love it," said Ray.

"We just want to keep building the momentum," Pascucci said.