Development

With a Super Bowl team, can Charlotte finally drop the ‘N.C.’?

THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

When the Carolina Panthers take the field in California for Super Bowl 50, economic developers and boosters in Charlotte are hoping the positive attention will help boost their home city’s status in the eyes of the nation.

And even though the game will be played almost 2,300 miles from Charlotte, some are hoping it can help the city shed a pesky part of its name: “N.C.” The Associated Press requires the state abbreviation to follow “Charlotte” in stories from the city, which annoys many locals who think the 17th-largest city should be able to stand alone.

Jill Santuccio, who heads Charlotte-based public relations firm Prism, led an unsuccessful campaign to get the AP to drop “N.C.” when the Democratic National Convention came to Charlotte in 2012. She’s hoping a Panthers win will help her cause now.

“If we won a Super Bowl and hosted the DNC, what more do we have to do to get the “N.C.” dropped?” she said this week.

Former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl said as much after the Panthers won the NFC championship two weeks ago.

“We now can drop ‘North Carolina’ off of our address,” McColl told the Observer after the Jan. 24 victory. “People know where we are, who we are. I think it’s been tremendous recognition for our city.”

Bob Morgan, CEO of the Charlotte Chamber, said he’s excited to see the exposure Charlotte is getting as a result of the Panthers’ success on the field. Almost 46 million viewers tuned in to watch the NFC Championship Game, which featured shots of the Charlotte skyline – better advertising than the Chamber or other boosters could buy.

“It’s unprecedented exposure for us. Good things will happen,” said Morgan. Consulting firm PwC estimated the San Francisco area will see about $220 million worth of direct spending as a result of hosting the game. There’s no comparable impact estimate for Charlotte though, which has been basking in reflected glory as Bank of America Stadium sits empty this week with eyes on Santa Clara.

The Chamber produced a promotional video featuring McColl, former Mayor Harvey Gantt, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and others talking about how the Panthers evoke the city’s “can-do spirit”:

Attracting new businesses is considered key to expanding the region’s business base, and could help fill the new speculative office towers underway from uptown to Ballantyne with new tenants. But Morgan and others I talked with cautioned that there’s no direct correlation with sports team success and companies or people moving to Charlotte.

“It’s not like you win a game on Sunday night and the phones ring off the hook Monday morning with people wanting to move their company to Charlotte,” said Morgan. “Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.”

Whether you’re a newcomer or a native, you’ve probably encountered the “Ch” phenomenon. You know what I mean: Someone from out of town asks if you’re near the beach, and you have to explain Charlotte, unlike Charleston, is inland and landlocked. Or, you have to tell them the difference between Charlotte and Charlottesville, Va.

Richard Yang, president of the Carolinas Chinese Chamber of Commerce, said he’s encountered that confusion when helping international travelers book travel.

“When they’re booking the air ticket, they get a little confused with Charlottesville,” said Yang. He was in Chicago on his way to China Thursday, and while he said he expects the Panthers’ success to raise Charlotte’s stature in the U.S., he doesn’t think it will have an impact on the international businesses he’s trying to attract in his role with the Carolinas Chinese Chamber.

“The Super Bowl surely will create awareness in the U.S.,” he said. “For China, that wouldn’t make much sense, since there aren’t many fans over there.”

There’s one thing they’re sure about: Having a team in the Super Bowl certainly won’t hurt economic development efforts. If nothing else, the Panthers’ outstanding season has been a great icebreaker and conversation starter when talking with executive prospective companies, said Ronnie Bryant, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership.

“I don’t have to bring it up. In most cases, the person you’re talking to leads with it,” said Bryant. By his estimate, about 85 percent of a company’s decision when it wants to relocate is based on objective factors, such as costs, state and local tax incentives and whether a company can find suitable office space. But about 15 percent of the decision-making process is subjective, based on how much executives like a given region.

“Nobody will move a company to this region because we’re in the Super Bowl,” said Bryant. “It’s not one of the objective criteria, but it definitely plays a role in the subjective part. If Charlotte USA is on your list of communities you’re considering, this is one more reason to like Charlotte.”

Regardless of the impact in recruiting companies, Morgan said he’s not losing sight of one thing about the Panthers’ second-ever Super Bowl appearance.

“Let’s also take a breath, and let’s enjoy the moment,” said Morgan. “That’s a pretty unique and special thing.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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