Dear Future Panthers Ownership,
Let’s take a minute to get to know each other. You are no doubt a wealthy person of means — a virtuoso in the arena of business. Your career has been filled with accomplishment, great investments, and the time has come to buy yourself a sports team.
I’m but a lowly creative, who happens to like to opine a bit too much, and I care a great deal about the welfare of my hometown. I’m also, at least in my mind, about the biggest damn Panthers fan on the planet. My dad is a proud PSL owner. I’ve been to at least 100 games, both home and away, and those I haven’t been to, I watched on television. I’ve supported the Panthers through every Steve Smith touchdown and Jimmy Clausen interception. John Kasay’s shanked kickoff in the Super Bowl earned me a blue mohawk and a few weeks of shame.
I’m your prototypical die-hard Panthers fan.
I’m now your shrewdest critic.
I’m sure you don’t want to screw up your relationship with those who matter, the fans, so I just wanted to give you a few pointers as you step into your new role.
(1) THE PANTHERS RELATIONSHIP IS VITAL TO THE CITY. WE ARE A FAMILY, NOT A BUSINESS.
For all his recently reported indiscretions, Jerry Richardson was good to Charlotte. Professional sports have done more for the city’s image than banking ever will. In 1987, when George Shinn was looking to win an NBA team for Charlotte, a Phoenix journalist was quoted saying, “the only franchise Charlotte will ever see is a McDonald’s.” Look where we are today: Professional sports helped prove the city punches well above its weight class.
You, future owner, have to be the type of person who continues this tradition of elevating Charlotte to unthinkable levels. Influential Charlotteans built the assets Charlotte holds so dear. Hugh McColl and Ed Crutchfield built a beautiful skyline and two titans of banking that put Charlotte on the financial industry map. Jerry Orr built a world-class airport, and former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, as much as it now pains me to say, helped bring the city into the 21st century.
Don’t forget, we are a fickle bunch. Take the aforementioned George Shinn, for instance. Don‘t mess with Charlotte. We know we are big league now, so we no longer owe you anything — you owe us everything. Be a community leader, be charitable, be personable and be grateful you have the opportunity to represent a great city, with a great team.
Be one of us. Don’t be an insular cardboard cutout in the luxury boxes.
(2) DON’T MOVE TO CAROWINDS (or any suburb)
I’m sure South Carolina seems like a dandy place. If you turn out to be Felix Sabates, it’s just down the road from your palatial abode in Seven Eagles.
There’s no shortage of what a person building a stadium covets so much — land. You can buy enough land to build your 65,000-seat dome, ringed in with 20,000 parking spaces, plus more. You then partner with developers to build strip malls, suburban style apartment complexes and a couple of small hotels. You can even charge people $40 a space for those 20,000 parking spaces. Sounds great, right? I’m almost convincing myself.
What you can’t build out there is culture. You can’t build the pregame experience. Part of the allure of going to a Panthers game is as much the before and the after, as the during. I’ve tailgated in parking lots and cities all over the country, and none of them match the vibe of South End and Third Ward.
Moving teams from Charlotte to South Carolina doesn’t have a great track record either. When Crockett Park mysteriously burned down in 1988, and George Shinn moved Charlotte‘s minor league baseball team to Fort Mill, it didn‘t go very well. My trips to Knights Castle were so sad, underwhelming and far away that I only went to three games in my life. They were so unsuccessful they moved back to Charlotte and built an uptown stadium. I realize the area has changed a lot over the years, but not that much, and you are still alienating a lot of your fan base.
Around my seats in Charlotte, I have fans that travel into town every single game from Greensboro, Winston Salem, Rocky Mount, Burlington, Rock Hill, Fort Mill and tons of other places. Uptown Charlotte is served by every single interstate these traveling fans need to get there. When the game ends these fans can walk over to any one of the copious uptown restaurants and hang out (perhaps sober up) until they are ready to make the drive back home.
Quite frankly, if building “State Line Stadium” is the most creative thing you can come up with, then I worry we will further waste the careers of what could be two of the more polarizing offensive players in the league, Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey.
If you have to build a new stadium, build it in town. I have three options for you.
Option 1: Move across West Morehead, give Pipe & Foundry an offer they can’t refuse, and build a domed stadium more appropriate for 2018 urban planning.
Option 2: Buy property from another Charlotte billionaire. CD Spangler controls more than enough land in the Brookhill/Southside neighborhood, adjacent to South End, to build a stadium. There is more than 100 acres of connected and underdeveloped land in this area. Not to mention, it has its own freeway exit and mass transit connectivity. Just please build affordable/workforce housing for the people displaced when you raze the neighborhood.
Option 3: Take a hiatus from Charlotte until a new stadium is complete. Visit Carter Finley, William Brice, Clemson Memorial Stadium, and other regional stadiums that foot the bill. Drum up some new fan support—this is a win-win.
(3) BUILDING A DOME DOESN’T EARN THE CITY A CHANCE TO HOST THE SUPER BOWL.
The DNC in 2012 was a case study in Charlotte not being ready to host a Super Bowl. It feels like half of Dilworth signed up for Airbnb, yet we still had prominent reporters staying at the Knights Inn near the airport. Charlotte was 10,000 rooms short of hosting a Super Bowl then, and is 7,000 rooms short now. Jacksonville remedied its shortage by bringing in cruise ships, so unless you flood I-277, build some arks, and have fans go two by two, I don’t think this is doable.
If you want a Super Bowl so badly, stay Uptown, be part of the neighborhood and be a catalyst for progress. Help be an asset for Uptown that helps bring in more hotels, visitors, residents and cultural attractions that take it to the next level. The city has a symbiosis that is much bigger than just the Panthers.
(4) NO FUNNY BUSINESS.
Please, please, please, don’t embarrass us. Keep your socio-political opinions to yourself, keep your nose clean and please no hanky-panky. From a PR perspective, Charlotte has had a tough couple of years, so we need a model citizen from this point onward.
(5) DON’T MOVE US TO ANOTHER CITY.
Last, but not least, The Panthers have had over 150 consecutive sellouts, are valued at an estimated $2.3 billion, and anchor one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. They are the only team between Atlanta and D.C. and have a growing fan base with a new generation of fans on the way.
As a kid, I could have never imagined there’d be groups like Roaring Riot, organizing out-of-market and in-market Panthers fans to meet up and enjoy football. We are a young but influential fan base. Stick by us, and we will take you far.
Photos: Charlotte Observer file