Canes’ Dundon on MLB effort in NC: ‘Instead of us guessing, we’re going to go find out.’

Ethan Hyman/

Tom Dundon, the Dallas billionaire who owns the Carolina Hurricanes, made big headlines on Monday when he told online sports talker David Glenn he was interested in bringing a Major League Baseball team to North Carolina.

That much is true, Dundon said Tuesday.

As for the rest of the bold type, it doesn’t quite match up to the details. Not yet anyway.

Dundon said a group of people in North Carolina – he declined at this point to name any – approached him to lead an effort to bring an MLB expansion team to Raleigh or Charlotte. Effort being the key word there.

“It’s early, right?” Dundon said. “You know how much work this is going to be. And then once we do all the work to figure out if we can pull this off, then they have to pick us.”

All of which is to say this is a very exploratory stage in the process, but if MLB does decide to expand – presumably at some point after the current collective bargaining agreement with the MLBPA expires in 2026 and any ensuing labor strife is settled – any attempt to get in that conversation has to begin now.

So this is how it begins.

With the Hurricanes setting new records for revenue and one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season, the development around the arena set to move forward and a merger of warring factions in Dundon’s pickleball world apparently imminent, Dundon said he has been interested in expanding his sports portfolio and was receptive to the baseball pitch.

The big questions like whether Raleigh or Charlotte is a better option, where a stadium would go, who else would put money in and whether either market can actually support an MLB team all remain to be answered.

“I think you have to do the work to make sure you give yourself the best chance,” Dundon said. “If it’s Raleigh, it’s easier for me. We’re so early in the process it wouldn’t be fair for me to think about that kind of decision. One, because it’s not up to me. You have to do whatever gives yourself the best chance.”

The pluses for Raleigh are the massive population growth and the lack of summer competition from MLS or the NFL (a year-round sport these days); the minuses are a lack of the kind of Fortune 500 headquarters of which Charlotte’s actually got a lot, as the slogan goes.

Those corporate dollars pay for the most expensive tickets and luxury seating and sponsorships, fuel for the professional sports economic engine. The Hurricanes have faced headwinds in that department, relying more heavily on individual ticket sales than other NHL teams. A major-league baseball team here would likely have to take the same approach.

And then there’s the question of whether the people in this area with real money would be willing to put it behind a baseball team, because Dundon made it clear he’s not going to go it alone. None of them were interested in buying the Hurricanes to secure that franchise’s future when it was leaking oil under Peter Karmanos, which is how it ended up being sold to someone from outside the area.

None of them were interested in pursuing an MLS franchise in the early days of that league, when this market would have been a choice location if anyone had stepped up. By the time someone did, NC Courage and North Carolina FC owner Stephen Malik, Charlotte was already swooping in with piles of David Tepper’s cash. (Not that Tepper has been able to buy success, in any sport.)

It’s one of many boxes that would have to be checked for this process to continue moving forward, but for the first time, the process is actually moving, is more than a fantasy or pipe dream.

“We’re going to go find out,” Dundon said. “Instead of us guessing, we’re going to go find out. When you go to baseball with this plan, you have to say, ‘Here’s all the commitments.’ If we have don’t have those commitments, they wouldn’t do it and I wouldn’t do it.

“We’ve really got to get the corporate and fan support, and it’s time to start building that up and time to go find out. There’s a lot of work starting now. It’s very early days. My instinct is that it will take us a good amount of time. That’s why we need to start now.”

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