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With a Carolina Panthers win on Sunday, the team would lock in the possibility of two home playoff games in January – a prospect that excites not only die-hard fans, but Charlotte hotels, bars and restaurants, too.
Throughout the team’s history, the Panthers have played 13 playoff games – all but five on the road. The franchise has never had two playoff games at home in one season, even when it went to the Super Bowl in 2004.
The team is already guaranteed a postseason game on Jan. 16 or Jan. 17, but Carolina needs to be the top seed in its conference to assure a chance at two home playoff games.
A victory Sunday at home in the Panthers’ regular season finale against Tampa Bay would do the trick. Otherwise, it gets more complicated. And, of course, the Panthers need to win their first-round game to advance.
Two high-stakes games in January would be a lucrative way to cap the year for Charlotte businesses that have reveled in a 14-1 season so far.
“If we have two (playoff games) this year, oh my gosh, it is going to be great for business,” said Sid Smith, executive director of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association.
Analysts often estimate a home playoff game can have at least $5 million in economic impact. Viewers around the country will also tune in to watch a playoff game, translating to national exposure for the city of Charlotte.
But Dennis Coates, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland, has studied the impact of hosting playoff games on cities and said it’s often overblown.
“The bottom line is that the impact is undoubtedly smaller than boosters would have you believe, and, in any case, not large enough to make a meaningful difference in the standard of living of Charlotte residents generally,” Coates said.
John Vrooman, a sports economics professor at Vanderbilt University, said Coates’ argument holds because the level of regional economic activity is constant and playoff games simply prioritize spending around Bank of America Stadium at the expense of the rest of the local economy.
Still, there are measurable positive impacts on certain sectors of the economy, such as the hotel industry.
“When we have post-season unscheduled, unanticipated home Panthers games in January, it is having something when there was nothing,” Smith said.
The Panthers games have already brought in additional hotel bookings this season, Smith said.
For a Sunday prime-time regular-season game in the past two to three years, hotel occupancy was about 55 to 60 percent, and the average daily room rate was about $120.
Because of the “extraordinary” Panthers season, this year, occupancy during October and November regular season games increased to 95 percent, and the average daily room rate was up to $195, Smith said.
The extra games will also serve as a boost to bars and restaurants already cashing in on a winning season.
“In the past, when people asked how our Sundays were, I said, ‘Look at the Panthers’ record,’” said Norm Randall, owner and operator of Dilworth Neighborhood Grille. These days, the Panthers’ record has allowed business on home game days to triple, even though the restaurant is always busier for away games.
“We’d schedule 20 to 25 staff members on a normal day,” Randall said. “On a Panthers game day, we have 40. We double our inventory. We even do a tailgate with the Roaring Riot (a Panthers fan club) uptown, so we feed over 400 people on home games, in addition to what we do here at the restaurant.”
Jamie Rivenbark, general manager of All American Pub, said the South End restaurant and bar usually has a good mix of locals and out-of-town visitors – and if the Panthers host two playoff games, there will be more of both groups.
As for the Panthers franchise itself, the team doesn’t disclose financial results, but Forbes magazine estimates the team has annual revenue of $325 million and operating income of $77.8 million.
Team president Danny Morrison has said that this season’s success has already helped in terms of TV ratings, team store sales, increased social media followings and home-game sellouts. But the playoffs themselves won’t be a huge financial boon, according to Vrooman, the Vanderbilt professor.
During the NFL regular season, about one-third of a game’s ticket revenue is shared with the league, while the home team keeps revenue from concessions, club fees and parking, he said. All of the national TV revenue is shared equally.
In the playoffs, the home playoff team keeps revenue from concessions and parking but shares all of the ticket revenue with the rest of the league. The NFL pays a flat fee to the participating clubs for hosting and travel costs.
(For the Panthers, parking isn’t a major income source because most of the parking around the stadium is run by other entities.)
“The NFL postseason,” Vrooman said, “is at best a break-even financial proposition for the participating clubs.”
Panther team store roars
December was the busiest month in Panthers team store history, team spokesman Steve Drummond said.
Located at Bank of America Stadium, the store had 10,129 orders for the month, for an average of 289 orders per day. It has processed over 15,500 transactions for December, at an average of $80 per transaction.
“We will ship almost as many orders in December as we have done from January 1 to November 30,” Drummond said.