Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium – long identified as the home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers – continues to make room for different playing partners.
Tuesday’s news that Tennessee and West Virginia will play a college football game in the stadium in September 2018 came 10 days before an international soccer “friendly” between Liverpool and AC Milan that is scheduled in the stadium for Aug. 2.
It’s not the first time college football and soccer have been played in the 73,778-seat stadium. But those sports figure to play a more prominent role as Charlotte continues to expand its sports brand – much of it coming in the 18-year home of the Panthers.
Will Webb, executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, hopes to bring a Labor Day weekend college football game to the stadium each year, like his group has with Tennessee-West Virginia in 2018 and an already-announced game between North Carolina and South Carolina in 2015. That would complete a college football schedule for the stadium that already includes the ACC Championship Game and the Belk Bowl, which will now feature teams from the ACC and SEC. The ACC recently signed a six-year extension to keep its championship game in Charlotte through 2019.
Neutral-site games with teams from college football’s power conferences, usually played early in the season, have become an increasingly large part of the college football landscape, and Webb wants Charlotte to be a regular part of that scene. Cities such as Arlington, Texas, Atlanta and Landover, Md., also host annual games.
“The success we’ve had with the ACC Championship and the elevation of the Belk Bowl has really helped put us on the map,” said Webb. “The hardest part is landing those first couple of games. But then (other schools) will now say, ‘Maybe we need to play in Charlotte.’ We’re hoping these are a launching pad for more games. We’re looking as far out as 2024, in addition to trying to find games for 2016 and ’17.”
The 2018 game will be third time West Virginia and its legions of fans have come to Charlotte. The Mountaineers played in Charlotte’s first bowl game (then called the Continental Tire Bowl) in 2002 and faced East Carolina in a regular-season game in 1999.
“Our players enjoy playing in NFL stadiums and this is a great match-up for our program,” said Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen in a statement. “We recruit the state of North Carolina and Charlotte is a strong football area. Our fans have always supported us strongly in previous games in Charlotte and I think this is a match-up they really will enjoy.”
East Carolina has played several games at the stadium in addition to the contest with West Virginia in 1999. The Pirates faced N.C. State (1994 and 2006), Virginia Tech (2008) and South Carolina (2011) in Charlotte.
North Carolina and N.C. State played each other in Charlotte in 1998 and ’99.
Panthers president Danny Morrison said three college football games, in addition to at least 10 Panthers home games (including exhibitions) are as much as the stadium’s natural turf field can stand in the fall and winter months.
“That’s about the right number,” said Morrison. “It would be difficult for it to take any more.”
But there is time during the warm-weather months for soccer, as is the case this year with the Liverpool-AC Milan match. A source told the Observer on Tuesday that nearly 60,000 tickets have been sold for the game (part of a tournament called the International Champions Cup) between the English and Italian powers. The soccer match will be first competitive event in the stadium after major renovations have been completed this summer.
The stadium also hosted two games in soccer’s Gold Cup – a biennial tournament to determine the champion of FIFA’s CONCACAF group – in 2011, and a friendly between Mexico and Iceland in 2010.
The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority played a key role in bringing the Liverpool-AC Milan game to the city, and chief executive officer Tom Murray said more big-time soccer is being pursued.
“Of all the stadiums being used in the International Champions Cup, we’ve been told ours was one of the fastest selling (for tickets),” said Murray. “That’s a good indication that we’ll be considered for other tournaments and friendlies down the road that would also bring in top teams from around the world.”
Morrison and the Panthers are happy to provide the venue – for soccer and college football.
“It’s a classic American stadium,” said Morrison. “It’s a great thing for Charlotte and the immediate area to have some of the best soccer and college football anywhere right here in our community.”