Twenty-five years ago, Jerry Richardson began a quest to bring the NFL to the Carolinas. He surprised doubters in 1993 when the Carolina Panthers became the 29th NFL franchise, and the team is now a treasure for our community and the Carolinas.
This could not have been achieved without strong public-private support, both financially and in spirit. As taxpayers, we also can be pleased that our initial public investment of $60 million in the Panthers’ stadium has been returned many times over, both directly through property, sales, amusement and intangible taxes generated, as well as indirectly through an injection of spending that ripples throughout the region.
With one of the least publicly funded stadiums in the NFL, Charlotte has clearly enjoyed what may be the most favorable partnership of any NFL city.
A recent economic impact study commissioned on behalf of the Panthers and conducted by the University of South Carolina found that hundreds of millions of dollars flow into and circulate through the Charlotte and N.C. economies annually as a result of the Panthers and stadium operations.
Among the rewards:
• Thousands of jobs have been created and sustained, including many that pay higher than average wages.
• Hundreds of millions of dollars go into the region’s tourism, transportation, wholesale trade, professional services and other industries each year.
• More than $150 million in income and sales taxes have been generated by the team for public use in Charlotte and the Carolinas.
• More than 75 school and community programs – involving 300,000 children – benefit from the Panthers’ support each year.
• Beyond Panthers games, Bank of America Stadium hosts more than 100 events every year, which have drawn millions of people to uptown for a diversity of events, including international soccer, concerts from Kenny Chesney to the Rolling Stones, the Billy Graham crusade, the Belk Bowl and the ACC Football Championship.
Harder to measure is the enormous value of the national and international exposure the Panthers generate for Charlotte and the Carolinas. Television ratings for NFL games nationally exceed those of professional basketball, baseball, hockey and NASCAR combined. An NFL franchise confers status that makes us more attractive to newcomers and new businesses.
Mr. Richardson has said the team will remain in Charlotte during his lifetime. It is inevitable, however, that at some point the Panthers will no longer be in the hands of this ownership group. And there are no guarantees once a new owner is involved.
One way to tie our Panthers to Charlotte is to create a new public-private partnership that will support necessary stadium improvements and that will tether the franchise to the city. Virtually every other NFL city has seen the value of making such an investment.
Just as Charlotte has grown and changed since the Panthers arrived, so has the NFL. Since 1996 when our stadium opened, 28 of the NFL’s 32 teams have built new or substantially renovated their stadiums or have plans to do so.
From the beginning, the Panthers’ vision was to offer the most functional, fan-friendly football stadium ever built – wide concourses, a broad-range of seating opportunities, plush natural stadium turf, offices inside the stadium – all in a park-like setting within walking distance of Charlotte’s city center.
The Panthers designed a classic football stadium that included those features. They employed a unique concept called Permanent Seat Licenses (PSLs) to fund about 40 percent of the stadium’s $187 million initial construction cost. The rest was paid for by the Richardson family and the Panthers’ ownership group. The public’s $60 million investment paid for infrastructure improvements around the stadium. The team has since spent more than $300 million for capital improvements, financing and operating costs.
That public contribution is far less than the overwhelming public support for stadiums built or renovated in virtually all NFL cities since 1995.
The Panthers are a proven investment. Now is the time to renew our public-private partnership and secure our NFL team for another generation in the Carolinas.
Steve Luquire owns Luquire George Andrews, an advertising, marketing and public relations firm that works with the Panthers.
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