How A 5-Year-Old Study May Help Tell The Panthers’ Future
The Carolina Panthers’ future is uncertain. As the team seeks a new owner, football fans are watching to see if the team will relocate for a domed stadium and more parking, perhaps to the Carowinds area on the North Carolina/South Carolina border.
Most of the Queen City thinks Carolina Panthers really stands for Charlotte Panthers and most definitely not South Carolina Panthers, and one expert — a South Carolina expert, at that — has laid out why Charlotte should fight hard to keep it that way and why everyone in the Carolinas, football fan or not, should be paying attention to the stadium’s next moves.
When Panthers owner Jerry Richardson put the team up for sale amid scandal at the end of the season, he left big questions for the team and the stadium.
The open-air stadium is nestled in 33 acres on the south side of Charlotte’s growing and thriving Uptown. It is just a few blocks’ walk from a LYNX Light Rail Station and is walking distance for anyone tailgating Uptown or in the neighboring Historic South End. There are more than 75,000 seats in the privately financed stadium. The property also includes practice fields, training facilities and administrative offices.
Speculation has included the potential need for a stadium with a roof to attract a future Super Bowl, a stadium move to farmland on Highway 51 and whether the new owners would consider moving outside of the Carolinas altogether.
University of South Carolina Graduate Director Department of Sport and Entertainment Tom Regan thinks none of these options are likely.
Five years ago, Regan conducted a study laying out how Bank of America Stadium was an asset to Charlotte. The economic impact study evaluated the 2012 season by fan spending, related business-to-business activity and business taxes.
“When you have a $500M asset sitting there, the valuation of the property surrounding it goes up — even if you just have the railroad running through it,” he said.
Carolina Panthers and Bank of America Stadium generated $636M annually, the study found. This money creates jobs, encourages spending and boosts taxes.
Panthers contribute about $39.6M in tax revenues to the state’s economy per year, according to the study. Of that, Charlotte City Council Economic Development Chairman James Mitchell said the county gets $12M and the city gets $9M.
“For those saying ‘Let them leave,’ I cannot do that in good consciousness,” Mitchell said.
The new ownership decision will be made very quickly, Mitchell said — sometime between the Super Bowl on Feb. 4 and the NFL Draft on April 26.
While the Charlotte City Council does not weigh in on the decision as to who will be the new Panthers owner — that decision will be made by Richardson and the NFL — the city will very much be affected by the outcome of the sale.
The Dome Question: Could Charlotte Host A Super Bowl?
NFL requires a “climate-controlled domed stadium” if the average temperature on game day falls below 50 degrees, according to leaked documents in 2014 that spelled out Super Bowl host city requirements. The average temperature in Charlotte the first week in February hovers at 42 degrees.
The 2014 Super Bowl was hosted at MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants, with no dome. Weather conditions on a typical February day in North Carolina are fairly comparable to one in New Jersey.
Should a domed stadium be considered?
“Hell no,” Regan said. “Everyone says ‘We’re going to have a Super Bowl.’ Well, you might, but you probably have to raise $60M in order to get a Super Bowl. They just think ‘If I put a dome on this, we’re going to get it.’ Well no, you’re not. You gotta come up with that money, and that’s not an easy thing to do."
Most sports fans would prefer to spend a nice day outside than inside anyway, Regan said, which means a retractable roof would most often be open.
“In my opinion, Kansas City and Denver have wonderful outdoor stadiums,” he said, referencing Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos. “Charlotte has better weather, comparably.”
Regan should know — he said he has visited every baseball and football stadium in the United States.
“It kind of humors me that I hear about a domed stadium in Charlotte,” he said. “You have one of the nicest stadiums, along with New England, on the East Coast.”
Charlotte Panthers Or (South) Carolina Panthers?
Mitchell said a lot goes into a Super Bowl strategy, and Charlotte has been working on it. He said 7,800 new apartments and four new hotels in Uptown were designed to attract fans and visitors.
“If we move it to Carowinds, everything we built Uptown works against us.”
What a move to Carowinds would add: a blank slate for a domed stadium to be built and a massive parking lot, resulting in massive parking revenues. However, people do not like driving to games, Mitchell said, and the LYNX Blue Line does not go to Carowinds.
Mitchell said moving the stadium close to South Carolina would change everything.
“Think about how beautiful it is now: People take the light rail and walk 4-5 blocks, yelling ‘Let’s go, Panthers.’ Our Center City comes alive; we are pounding on Sunday. Center City is the heartbeat of a city,” Mitchell said.
“We should get creative and make it happen in Center City rather than move it. We would be missing a lot of energy if the stadium is moved toward Carowinds. At Bank of America Stadium, they show our skyline. If they move it to Carowinds, there’s no skyline down there.”
Regan sees a benefit from the Panthers' stadium being near other sports venues — the baseball stadium down the street allows the venues to share parking and build a shared atmosphere. Besides, he does not think a new stadium could get financed.
“I don't see the Charlotte community being real benevolent toward a billion-dollar bond issue to build a stadium for a billionaire,” Regan said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Moving the stadium to Carowinds (or anywhere else, for that matter), also does not make sense to Regan.
“If they think it’s going to go to South Carolina, that’s folly,” he said
Upgrades Keep Stadium In Great Shape
Regan said that he has seen the quality of BOA Stadium, and that having it built by private funds rather than by the city makes a big difference in the quality of construction. Most stadiums are publicly financed through revenue or general obligation bonds, he said.
The Panthers land was provided by the city, but sales of Permanent Seat Licenses paid for the stadium construction. A new stadium could potentially infuriate these loyal fans. A new stadium might require PSL owners to renew their seats, Regan said.
“That’s a good way to piss off your fan base — and that’s a very strong, loyal fan base,” he said. “That stadium has good bones, and I know that. It’s an A-plus property.”
The city invested $87.5M for upgrades through tourism taxes in 2013, according to Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority Director of Communications Laura White. Upgrades were implemented over the past few years. In return, the Panthers agreed to stay in Charlotte — but only until at least 2019.
The most important revenue-generating updates to stadiums include club seats and luxury suite upgrades, technology upgrades (scoreboards and ribbon boards) and infrastructure (escalators and elevators), Regan said.
“The Panthers have done all of this; they did things right.”
With all these upgrades, is the team’s biggest asset, the stadium, ready to sell?
“Heavens, yeah,” Regan said. “It’s got a ribbon on it.”