The Carolina Panthers are finally back at Bank of America Stadium Sunday, and fans can expect a few changes for the season home opener – including fewer tailgating lots, more craft beer and possibly steep pedicab fares.
Sunday’s matchup against the Buffalo Bills is the Panthers’ 150th straight sellout, according to Phil Youtsey, the team’s executive director of ticketing and sponsorship. But it’s still possible to get a seat if you’re willing to pay the price.
As in past years, Panthers permanent seat license holders (PSLs) own about 62,000 seats this season, making up almost 90 percent of the stadium. But the secondary market provides fans with plenty of options.
As of Friday morning, tickets to the 1 p.m. game were starting at $119, according to TicketIQ which tracks 90 percent of the nation’s secondary ticket market, including sites like the NFL Ticket Exchange.
This year’s home opener is particularly intriguing to many fans given the ties between the Bills and the Panthers: The Bills hired former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott as their new head coach during the offseason, as well as former Panthers assistant general manager Brandon Beane as their new general manager. The Bills have also signed former Panthers Mike Tolbert, Leonard Johnson and Joe Webb.
Youtsey said the unusual ties aren’t necessarily driving up ticket demand; excitement is generally high for the first home game, he said.
A big boost to the tailgate scene this year is the so-called brunch bill, which was passed earlier this summer and allows for alcohol sales at 10 a.m., two hours earlier than before. Grocery stores, bars, breweries and the Roaring Riot tailgate are all expected to benefit.
At the stadium, fans will notice the latest round of recently completed renovations, a $47 million project that includes a renovated lower-level concourse, newly redesigned suites on the 300 and 400 levels and a 100-level craft beer bar that doubled its number of taps. The field also has been re-sodded, and it has a brand new drainage system.
Bank of America Stadium also technically has about 153 new seats this year, thanks to the addition of several members-only clubs that were carved out during the offseason. All of those have been sold, Youtsey said.
Here are some other changes to look forward to on Sunday:
▪ Fewer tailgating lots. It’s hard to miss the dozen or so cranes erected in and around uptown Charlotte right now. More construction uptown these days means fewer surface lots on which to tailgate – that was the case last year, too, when demolition crews ripped out the lots on the old Observer site, a prominent tailgate spot.
Ben Sands, general manager of Premier Parking, says as more new apartment and office buildings finish their construction, the supply of parking spots has increased in parking garages as it’s diminished in lots. The problem is that parking garages aren’t great tailgating spots, and they have rules, like no open grill flames.
Over 300 spots opened up in the garage at 500 East Morehead, for instance, Sands said. The spots are reserved for tenants during the day but transition to paid parking during events like football games.
“It’ll be interesting to see how Charlotte transitions in its tailgate environment,” said Sands, whose company leases 325 parking spots uptown.
▪ Pricey pedicabs. If you’ve ever been uptown during a big event, you’ve probably noticed dozens of rickshaw-like vehicles zipping through traffic. Thomas Richards, owner and operator of R&R Pedicab Company, said he’s noticed more competition than ever in the local pedicab market and worries that out-of-town drivers are price-gouging fans.
During the first two preseason games, some drivers were charging three times as much as local operators, whose rates start at $10 a person, Richards said. He and other local operators like Charlotte Pedicab have been clamoring for more regulation as drivers from as far away as Florida and Ohio come to town for big events and compete for customers.
“Be cautious of who you’re riding with and make sure they quote you a price before you get on their bike,” Richards said.
▪ Roaring Riot tailgate. The Charlotte-based Panthers fan club will be in its usual spot off Cedar Street, founder Zack Luttrell said, but this year, Cam Newton’s food truck, Smokn’ Aces, will be parked there, too.
The brunch bill allows for charities to sell, so since Roaring Riot donates its proceeds to Newton’s charity, the tailgate will sell from the four taps on its beer trailer starting at 10 a.m. Roaring Riot plans to use the donations raised this year to sponsor the North Carolina team at the 50th Special Olympics next summer, Luttrell said.