Friday night’s Panthers Fan Fest was the first public event in the newly renovated Bank of America Stadium and 36,315 fans turned out to see the upgrades – both on and off the field.
Spectators watched a light Panthers workout – with the team wearing only shoulder pad shells and helmets going through basic offensive and defensive drills.
Fort Mill resident Leo Giocondo liked what he saw from the non-contact practice.
“I think they will be a two-year-in-a-row success,” he said. “I don’t think they have ever done that before.”
Fans were surrounded by $65 million worth of stadium enhancements. Included in the upgrades are two new videoboards and ribbon boards, an updated sound system, escalators, lighted domes at the entrances, exterior lighting and paving bricks.
Lower level seating was open to everyone, but Fred Lekson was the only fan who trekked to upper deck section 515 – where he has his season tickets. He believes the renovations will enhance the game atmosphere and were necessary for the team to keep up with the competition.
“I think it is very nice,” said Lekson, a Charlotte resident who has owned season tickets since the Panthers’ inaugural season. “The sound is better. I can actually hear it.”
The escalators were a popular attraction for curious fans. Some applauded and high-fived as they rode up the moving stairs – which sport Panthers blue railings and neon lighting.
“It’s an awesome ride,” one fan said jokingly. “We were booking it on there. I’ve been looking forward to riding it for months.”
Giocondo was complimentary of the new additions, saying that he thinks the stadium looks great.
“They did a really good job,” he said. “I love the escalators ... Every single time I come I am going to use them.”
Still, the added convenience was lost on some older traditionalists.
“I’m not riding them,” one fan said emphatically, sweating as he walked the ramps on his way to the upper deck. “I don’t like change.”
At the end of the night, spectators were treated to a concert, a fireworks display and player autographs. Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly drew the loudest applause as they circled the stadium with pens in hand.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera was impressed with the stadium upgrades and fan turnout. He hopes the enthusiasm carries into the season.
“The (videoboards) are impressive,” he said after practice. “I really liked what we saw as far as crowd participation. That was exciting. That’s what we are looking for. To build on the excitement we had last year and keep that momentum going this year.”
Shoff: 704-358-5928; Twitter: @curryshoff
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