My letter to the future owner of the Panthers, from the world’s biggest fan

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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

16 COMMENTS

  1. As “the world’s biggest sports fan” you should probably know that John Kasay didn’t miss a field goal in Super Bowl 38, his kickoff late in the 4th quarter went out of bounds and set up the Patriots with good field position and they made the winning field goal.

  2. Also, he should have added, if the Panthers left town the Observer would be out of business. They’d have nothing to write about.

  3. Good article. If you relocate to Carowinds, you might lose some fans from eastern NC back to the Washington Redskins. Do not underestimate the fan base fron eastern and central NC.

    Stuart Smith
    Mebane

  4. Building a dome DOES earn the city a chance to host the Super Bowl. Super Bowl sites have already been chosen through 2022, and if you use ATT&T Stadium or Mercedes Benz Stadium for comparison to a potential domed Panther stadium the process to develop and build would take 6+ years. Charlotte is already closer to the number of hotel rooms needed than they were in 2012, and by the time a potential stadium was finished the city may have already reached that number or could have plans to reach the needed amount.

    Also, if the new potential ownership group has the opportunity to use land they already own or purchase land outside of Uptown Charlotte I imagine they would do this long before they make Charlotte Pipe “an offer they can’t refuse.” Very wealthy people get and stay that way because they make smart financial decisions. Purchasing a piece of land in Uptown Charlotte because it is close to the current stadium when you are already looking at a $1 billion plus project would not be a smart financial decision.

  5. Right on virtually every point. Best of all, it comes from the heart of a pure fan. No political or profit agenda, although those have their place, just an eyes-open analysis of what has made our NFL Panthers so important and what will best serve common future success.

  6. Well written and thought out. I would have added that you need to create an excitement for the team when they are in the playoffs (will apply to the Hornets as well) like posters and pep rallies. It is okay for grownups to act like we are in high school again at playoff time. Think I am crazy? Check out Indianapolis around any big event like Pacer playoffs, Colts playoffs, Final Four, or Super Bowl or Pittsburgh with the Steelers and Penguins. Even in the regular season, Indianapolis has “Blue Fridays” as an excuse to wear Colts gear to work. How about “Teal Fridays” for Charlotte?

  7. ANY city that will fully fund a new stadium with little/no cost to the team will be the next city that the panthers call home…they couldn’t care less whether they are the Carolina Panthers or the Cleveland Panthers…it’s all about how much financial support they can milk out of the city….that’s all.

  8. World biggest fan? Perhaps, but no doubt the competition for that claim would be stiff. It sure was nice of yer Dad to let u use those seats over the years. I take it he was a PSL owner like me. As a matter of fact my name is carved into the base of one of those Panther statues as u enter the stadium. Paid good dollars for those PSL and yes no guarantees and no contract came with them other than my obligation to pay for the season ticks and home playoff games. So while yer busy scoping out yer new location for yer new mega domed stadium u might at least acknowledge those PSL Owners who helped Mr Richardson, his partners and the Carolinas bring the Cats to the dance. My Dad always taught me that u always stuck with those who bring u to the dance. But of course he was an old school handshake, his word was his bond sorta guy, certainly more rare today. This city has been built with the help and guidance of a lot of classy individuals. I recon we are about to find out exactly how much of that remains today or is it just gona be all about “The Mega Deal.” Oh one other thing, Be careful what u wish for, u might just get it. Most families can’t afford to go to a game as it is ……. doubt the price of cotton will drop in yer new mega dome. Go Cats!

  9. Pretty good article. JR got one thing exactly right, the most important member of our organization is the fans.

    Players will come and go, even sponsors, but a lifelong fan is irreplaceable.

    Leaving uptown and building a dome are my biggest fears.

    Sincerely,
    An original PSL owner

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