RailHawks' New Owner Stephen Malik Is Eager For The Start Of 2016 Season

The local tech entrepreneur purchased the club in late October and is fired up for the 2016 campaign
Jack Bell (@JackBell} | Dec 1, 2015

Scant weeks into his tenure as the new owner of the Carolina RailHawks, Stephen N. Malik is itching for the start of the 2016 North American Soccer League season with all the fervor of a North Carolina Tar Heels college basketball fan camped out to buy tickets for an Atlantic Coast Conference showdown against rival Duke.

“I’m still on a honeymoon high, I wish the season started in two weeks,” Malik told in a telephone interview from the RailHawks’ home, WakeMed Soccer Park, in Cary, N.C. “I can’t wait for it to start. I’m juiced.”

Malik, obviously, is thrilled to give the RailHawks and their fervent fans solid, local ownership after he completed his 100 percent purchase of the club in late October. The native of Kinston is Carolina through and through, having graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in business administration and embarking on a successful business career when he founded Medfusion in Cary in 2000. After selling the company to Silicon Valley-based Intuit (makers of the popular tax preparation software TurboTax) for $91 million in 2010, he reacquired the struggling company (which is a purveyor of online patient portals and other related services for healthcare providers) and set about putting it back on its feet.

Last May, Malik attended a dinner for local business executives and the conversation drifted to his interest in getting involved in a professional sports team in the area.

“A lot of the talk was about the [NHL] Hurricanes and why I hadn’t invested because they were looking for some local ownership,” he said. “I told them that I didn’t have an interest in being a minority owner with a big hockey guy from Detroit [Peter Karamanos]. Then the guys across the table asked if I’d thought about the RailHawks. I started to understand what the local situation was and started going to games. The team was fun to watch.

“I hadn’t been out to WakeMed in a couple of years. They put in suites, an upper deck, a video board. I started walking through the process. I think my second game was the Cosmos game and I thought the fans reaction was interesting. I’ve had a strong desire to own a pro team to help the community. I’ve learned along the way that charitable giving is great, but you need to get behind something to make a difference and I can bring more to the equation than money. It seemed like a pretty good fit. I was in a position to put some time and attention on it. I have some financial independence and a background with the sport. This was not a premium buy in, but it did require a tremendous investment. It still will.”

Malik opted to retain the front office staff, which includes general manager Curt Johnson, executive vice president Peter Sciandra and head coach Colin Clarke. Like most professional soccer teams, the changes are more likely to come on the field. The RailHawks recently re-signed Tiyi Shipalane and have a handful of others under contract for 2016. And he knows that the club, which has always been interested in local talent (for example, Austin da Luz), plays in a soccer hotbed where there are more than 25,000 youngsters playing organized ball in only one of three counties in the area.

“I’ve been supporting Tar Heel soccer all along,” Malik said. “This year they have two senior academic All-Americans and All-ACC players. We’d like to sign guys like that. N.C. State, Wake [Forest] was a No. 1 seed – you look at the ACC and no one has access to college talent like we do. That concept of building with local talent, we’re well positioned. If we can be an All-ACC team with some other homegrown players and one or two internationals I think that would work. But we know we better have a strategy that will win. I do think that with a long-term eye it makes sense to mine the resources we have here.”

Part of that equation – off the field – Is forging stronger relationships with the vibrant local community. The Raleigh-Durham area is the 24th largest media market in the United States and is the fastest growing of any market among the top 25.

“I went to a party last week and was just standing around and these three guys came over and asked me, ‘How does it feel to be the most loved owner in sports in North Carolina?’” Malik said. “I guess the only place for me to go is down! It’s my goal to professionalize this entire organization and improve the fan experience. The fans are thrilled. The business community is embracing us. Everyone is embracing us because it’s a great fit. There’s great potential here. I feel a responsibility to be a good steward.”

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