If the Carolina Panthers lose this weekend to the New Orleans Saints, their season would be over – and the team would officially be for sale.
With a new owner comes new questions about 22-year-old Bank of America Stadium.
Would the new ownership group want a new stadium? Or would they be content to stay at South Mint Street?
Felix Sabates, a minority owner of the Charlotte Hornets, told the Observer this week he is part of a group of five investors that’s considering making a bid for the team. Sabates said the Panthers would need a new stadium to generate more revenue, to make the possible sale price of between $2 billion and $3 billion feasible.
Never miss a local story.
Max Muhleman, a sports consultant who helped create the Personal Seat Licenses that paid for Bank of America Stadium, disagrees. He said the stadium is more than fine, and there is no reason the team can’t continue playing there for years.
Here is a look at where Bank of America Stadium compares with other NFL stadiums – and the latest trends in the league.
How many stadiums are older than Bank of America Stadium?
Of the NFL’s 32 teams, nine have stadiums older than Bank of America Stadium. Most of those have had massive renovations recently, such as a $350 million makeover of Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium two years ago. That added a large new canopy to protect spectators from the south Florida sun.
And two of those teams will soon get new stadiums. The Oakland Raiders are leaving their 42-year-old stadium for a new dome in Las Vegas, and the Los Angeles Rams are leaving the 1920s-era Coliseum for what will be the league’s most opulent stadium, costing more than $2 billion.
Does that mean Bank of America Stadium is outdated?
Not necessarily. Though it’s one of the older stadiums, the NFL went on a stadium-building spree around the time the Panthers’s home was built in 1996.
Thirteen new stadiums were built from 1996 to 2003. If you look at NFL stadium construction in clusters (pre-1995; 1996-2003; 2003-present) the Panthers’ stadium is in the middle group.
Many of those stadiums built twenty years ago have undergone multi-million dollar renovations, but their owners haven’t made any public overtures about getting a new stadium. One exception: Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder wants a new stadium to replace FedEx Field in Maryland, built in 1997.
Muhleman said the stadium has enough luxury suites and club suites to generate big money for the team.
He said the city’s and the team’s 2013 renovation helped modernize the stadium. The renovations included new escalators; giant video boards; an electronic ribbon board inside the stadium; better WiFi and renovated suites. The improvements were partially paid for with $87.5 million from the city.
“You’ll never find a stadium that fills every list of what you could do,” Muhleman said.
There are a few new amenities the stadium doesn’t have. One is field-level suites, in which fans can watch the game from the sideline. New stadiums in Atlanta, Dallas and New Jersey have those suites.
Another is large open “party decks” that allow fans to stand and mingle, while keeping an eye on the game.
Muhleman said the new ownership group could punch holes in the existing stadium if they wanted to add a party deck and field-level suites.
“They can punch out some of that suite space,” he said. “They can also alter the configuration of the stadium, and they have done it already.”
Do the newest stadiums have domes or retractable roofs?
Yes and no.
Of the seven NFL stadiums built since 2003, four have retractable roofs – Arizona, Indianapolis, Dallas and Atlanta. Minnesota’s new stadium has a fixed roof.
But that doesn’t mean there is a trend towards teams with open-air stadiums going indoors. The new stadiums in Indianapolis, Minnesota and Atlanta replaced existing domes. AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, has a retractable roof, and it replaced Texas Stadium, which had a large canopy that covered most of the fans.
Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium replaced an outdoors stadium, but that was probably necessary because the NFL plays almost all of its games in the afternoon. In the desert heat, that wasn’t a good experience when the Cardinals played in a college stadium in Tempe.
The same goes for a new fixed-roof stadium in Las Vegas, which should open in 2020. It would be uncomfortable to play afternoon games in Las Vegas in September and October.
What would be the benefit for Charlotte and the Panthers of having a fixed-roof or retractable roof stadium?
Marc Ganis, a sports consultant who advises NFL teams on new stadium plans, said the benefit of such a stadium is the ability to hold championship events like the NCAA Final Four or college football’s national championship game. It could also help Charlotte land a Super Bowl.
The Final Four needs a large, domed stadium. And it’s unlikely Charlotte could land a Super Bowl or the college football championship with an outdoor stadium because of the weather.
He said Charlotte would have to decide if the city wants to pursue such big events.
But a new enclosed stadium would easily cost $1 billion.
The new stadium in Atlanta, which has a retractable roof, opened in the fall of 2017 and cost $1.6 billion. Minnesota’s new stadium, which has a fixed roof, opened in 2016 and cost $1.1 billion.
When a city builds a new stadium, the NFL often rewards the team with a Super Bowl. This year’s championship game, for instance, is being played in Minneapolis.
Muhleman said Charlotte would likely get a Super Bowl – once. Then the NFL would return the big game to “party cities” like Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Phoenix that have better weather and more things to do.
Would it be worth it for the city?
That’s impossible to say.
No one knows how much the city, county or state might pay.
In other stadium deals, the public has been asked to spend one-third of half of a stadium’s cost. That could be $500 million.
If the public spent $500 million, it would probably never recoup that money from the new tax revenue generated by big events.
When Houston hosted the Super Bowl last year, the city estimated it would bring in $11 million in new tax revenue from the game. It would take several Super Bowls, Final Fours and college football championships for the city to recoup a half-billion dollar investment.
Muhleman said large stadiums – either inside or open-air – also don’t attract events like mega-concerts anymore because there aren’t enough musicians popular enough to fill a 60,000-seat stadium.
When the city agreed to help fund stadium renovations in 2013, it struck a deal with the team to use the stadium rent-free for several days a week. But most of those days have never been used.
How would the stadium be paid for?
When compared with other NFL stadiums, the public got a relatively good deal when Bank of America Stadium was built. The public provided the land and infrastructure, and the Panthers – through personal seat licenses bought by fans – paid for the $250 million stadium.
In 2013, the City Council agreed to spend $87.5 million on the stadium. That money came from hotel/motel taxes and a prepared food and beverage tax that pay for tourism-related projects like new stadiums.
But Ron Kimble, a former deputy city manager who is still a consultant for the city, has told City Council there isn’t enough money in the tourism fund to build a new stadium. That would require raising either the hotel/motel tax or the restaurant/bar tax, which would need approval by the General Assembly in Raleigh.
Does Bank of America Stadium need more seats?
With the exception of the Dallas Cowboys’ eight-year-old stadium, which can seat as many as 105,000, many NFL stadiums are getting smaller.
When the Miami Dolphins renovated their stadium two years ago, the team tore out some seats in the corner of the stadium to make room for large video boards. Their stadium shrunk from 75,000 seats to about 65,000. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders have long covered some of their upper-deck seats with tarps because fans don’t want to buy them.
Buffalo’s New Era Field, one of the oldest in the NFL, has also shrunk, from around 80,000 seats in the early 1980s to 71,000 seats today.
The trend may continue, as NFL attendance has dipped slightly this season.
Bank of America Stadium is already one of the league’s biggest, with a capacity of 75,525. The team is well supported and could probably sell more tickets if it had more seats. But under Richardson, the team hasn’t talked about adding more seats. It’s unlikely a new owner would, either.
“The economic model now is to raise the average revenue per attendee, but not to cram more seats into the bowl,” said Kevin Reichard, an editor at a web site Football Stadium Digest.
Earlier this decade, the Washington Redskins removed more than 10,000 seats seats from FedEx Field, which was built a year after Bank of America Stadium. The team added a standing-room party deck.
What else are teams doing to make more money?
Some teams are building other attractions near or adjacent to their stadiums to give them a year-around draw.
The Atlanta Braves’ new baseball stadium in suburban Cobb County, SunTrust Park, will have a mixed-use development next door.
The New England Patriots built Patriot Place adjacent to Gillette Stadium. It has a team museum, a movie theater, bars and traditional big-box stores like Bed Bath and Beyond.
There isn’t enough land around Bank of America Stadium to build something like Patriot Place. But the new ownership group could shoehorn a smaller development on land the team already owns, or on the practice fields across the railroad tracks.
When the stadium was built two decades ago, it was in a quiet corner of uptown.
But there is now plenty of foot traffic that could be enticed to spend money at a Panthers-owned restaurant, team museum or retail center. The stadium is two blocks from the booming intersection of Tryon and Stonewall streets, and the area around the stadium is three blocks from a number of new residential towers in Third Ward.
“The goal now is doing something with the real estate around the stadium,” said Mark Conrad, director of Fordham University’s sports business concentration. “It’s building a mall type of environment with shops. That's where I think it's heading.”
Conrad said the gold standard for a stadium combined with a real estate development will be the Los Angeles Rams stadium that’s planned for Inglewood. The Rams owner, Stan Kroenke, plans a 300-acre residential and retail project adjacent to his stadium, which will likely cost more than $2 billion.
“The stadium looks spectacular,” he said. “But it’s what’s around the stadium will be the revenue generator.”
What else do the Panthers want?
Because of its urban location, the team controls very little game-day parking. When the city and the team were negotiating about the stadium improvements in 2013, the team proposed the city help build the team a parking deck. The city declined.
Sabates said the team needs to be able to control 20,000 parking spaces. That can generate sizable money for the team: The Dallas Cowboys charge as much as $75 for the best parking spots at its stadium.
But as uptown continues to develop, finding room for 20,000 parking spaces could be difficult. Muhleman said it’s just one trade-off of having an urban stadium, where people can enjoy tailgating before a game and eating at a restaurant afterwards.
Older than Bank of American Stadium
Here are the NFL stadiums older than Bank of America Stadium, which opened in 1996:
▪ Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, 1972 – $375 million renovation in 2010.
▪ Buffalo’s New Era Field, 1973 – $130 million renovation in 2012; new ownership group has been discussing new stadium
▪ Jacksonville’s EverBank Field, 1995.
▪ Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, 1987 – $350 million renovation in 2016.
▪ Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, 1957 – renovated in 2010.
▪ Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 1923 – temporary home for Los Angeles Rams, who are moving to a new stadium.
▪ Mercedez-Benz Superdome New Orleans, 1975 – $182 million renovation in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina.
▪ Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, 1966 – Oakland Raiders are leaving for Las Vegas.
▪ Chicago’s Soldier Field, 1924 – $690 million rebuild in 2002.