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N.C. Opinions: Greensboro

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Panthers’ funding solution: Let the public play, too

From an editorial Thursday in the Greensboro News & Record:

The Charlotte-based Carolina Panthers must think they have a home-field advantage even in Raleigh. Owner Jerry Richardson, looking for $62.5 million, met with a couple of influential politicians with Charlotte connections in the capital city last week – Gov. Pat McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis.

The Panthers want to make $250 million in improvements to their stadium, which cost $248 million to build. The Charlotte City Council appears ready to contribute $125 million. The Panthers reportedly want to split the other $125 million needed with the state.

Tillis said Tuesday he can’t support giving state tax dollars to the Panthers. That’s probably not the last word from Raleigh, but Richardson should come up with another idea, anyway. He could look to the National Football League’s most storied franchise for inspiration.

The Green Bay Packers are owned by more than 360,000 shareholders, none of whom has a controlling interest. In its most recent stock sale, which concluded last February, the team netted just over $67 million, or almost half the amount needed for a $143 million stadium expansion.

Rather than ask N.C. taxpayers for $62.5 million while offering nothing in return, Richardson should sell team ownership, one share at a time. An NFL rule bars any other team from adopting the Packers’ model, but that needs to be changed.

What happens between the Panthers and the city of Charlotte is their business. On game days, fans flood into the city, spending money and contributing to uptown vitality. Furthermore, the Panthers pay local taxes, support local charities and give Charlotte nationwide visibility as a major-league city.

Not so much for Greensboro, Durham, Rocky Mount or other distant North Carolina cities. Although residents from throughout the state attend Panthers games, they pay plenty for the experience.

The Panthers generated $269 million in revenues last year, according to Forbes. That number has climbed steadily, even through the Great Recession. Surely, the team could afford to pay for stadium upgrades itself. The state’s revenue picture isn’t nearly that healthy. So, Richardson should not count on any money from state government. For a better approach, let him ask the NFL for permission to implement the Green Bay method and let fans buy a piece of the team. Think of what a home-field advantage the Panthers would have then.

The views in N.C. Opinions are not necessarily those of the Observer’s editorial board.
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