If you moved to Charlotte after 2004, the only Carolina Panthers home stadium you’ve known has been Bank of America Stadium. That’s the year Bank of America bought the naming rights to the stadium nestled into the Uptown skyline.
But when the Carolina Panthers played their first game in that brand-new stadium, it had just been named Ericsson Stadium. That was Aug. 3, 1996. The Panthers beat the Chicago Bears and Observer reporter Ron Green wrote this headline the next day: “Stadium’s opening night noisy, rainy, breathtaking.”
Who knew sports recaps could be so poetic?
Green also wrote that the best fan dance of the night came when “fans broke into the Macarena. They may do it better at South Beach but they don’t have any more fun.”
Oh, to see the Macarena regain popularity.
Before the opening of Ericsson stadium, the Panthers played their home games in Clemson, S.C.
So, why “Ericsson?”
Naming rights to the stadium were purchased by Swedish telecommunications firm LM Ericsson Inc. that year for about $20 million over a 10-year period, according to the Charlotte Observer archives. The firm also had a research and development facility in Research Triangle Park.
Many Charlotteans were surprised by the name.
One Panthers fan, Bruce Zaidman, was quoted as saying: “Unbelievable. Ericsson Stadium? That’s terrible.”
“Why a Swedish company?” another fan, Eleanor, said. “My first thought is, ‘Who is that?'”
Once the deal went through, Mark Richardson, director of business operations for the Panthers, said Ericsson’s commitment to the communities it serves and its growing presence in the Carolinas made Ericsson a “perfect fit,” according to the Observer archives.
At least, until 2004. That’s when Bank of America Corp. completed the 20-25-year agreement, worth at least $140 million, to receive naming rights to the stadium and dub it Bank of America Stadium. Ericsson had agreed to end their naming-rights deal early if a replacement was found. This replacement happened to be one of the richest naming-rights deals in the NFL at the time.
Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was quoted as saying the deal “is one of the two or three most important moments in the history of the Carolina Panthers.”
I’d add the debut of the Cam Newton Coachella romper to that list.
Photo:David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer