Carolina Panthers

Can ‘chump change’ contribution keep Charlotte, Panthers from Raiders’ fate? Maybe ...

Raiders fans in Oakland, incluiding Robert Morales, are upset about the team’s move to Las Vegas, which NFL owners approved at the league meetings Monday.
Raiders fans in Oakland, incluiding Robert Morales, are upset about the team’s move to Las Vegas, which NFL owners approved at the league meetings Monday. AP

NFL owners overwhelmingly approved the Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas at their annual meetings, delivering a blow to the team’s infamously rabid fan base – including seven fans who showed up Monday at the Arizona Biltmore.

The Raiders became the third team given the OK to move in the past 15 months, following the Rams and Chargers to warm-weather cities with new stadium deals.

The rapid-fire relocation of three franchises to Los Angeles and Las Vegas raises questions about which team might be the next to move – or more specifically, would the Panthers ever bolt Charlotte?

The short answer is not in owner Jerry Richardson’s lifetime (despite a cbssports.com report Sunday the team swiftly shot down), and probably not under a new owner, either.

NFL owners approved the Oakland Raiders' move to Las Vegas at the league meetings on Monday. The Raiders likely will play two or three more years in the Bay Area before their $1.7 billion stadium near the Las Vegas Strip is ready. Las Vegas, long

Industry experts and league officials point to the Panthers’ strong community support, Charlotte’s growing population base and the team’s wide geographic swath on the NFL map as reasons the Panthers’ long-term future in Charlotte appears secure.

But in today’s NFL, new or majorly renovated stadiums are key to keeping teams from moving. Otherwise, to paraphrase Kevin Costner from “Field of Dreams,” if another city builds it, they will come.

Las Vegas lured the Raiders with $950 million in public money toward a new stadium, a windfall that surpassed the Atlanta Falcons ($600 million) and Minnesota Vikings ($500 million) as the biggest taxpayer-subsidized stadium deal in league history.

Las Vegas lured the Raiders with $950 million in public money toward a new stadium, a windfall that surpassed the Atlanta Falcons ($600 million) and Minnesota Vikings ($500 million) as the biggest taxpayer-subsidized stadium deal in league history.

Given those figures, sports business consultant Marc Ganis believes Charlotte leaders didn’t pony up enough for the Panthers when the team sought public money for renovations to Bank of America Stadium in 2013.

Charlotte City Council agreed to give the Panthers $87.5 million in return for a 10-year tether, which includes only a six-year “hard tether.”

In the Panthers’ original plan, the city would have spent $125 million in improvements and the state would have contributed $62.5 million. The Panthers also would have spent $62.5 million while agreeing to a 15-year tether through the 2027 season, when the stadium would have been 31 years old.

Ganis, a Chicago-based consultant who’s advised owners on new stadiums, described Charlotte’s public contribution as “chump change” compared to more recent subsidies.

“Jerry Richardson was willing to do a well-below market deal that would lock the team into the community for decades. It was the political leadership that turned them down,” Ganis said Monday. “I’m not saying his mind is changed. But as we look to the future, what happens? How valuable to NFL teams become?”

Forbes last year estimated the Panthers’ worth at $2.08 billion, which ranks 22nd among the 32 teams, according to Forbes. During the negotiations with the city, officials said Richardson’s will calls for the team to be sold within two years of his death.

Ganis said he would not expect a new owner to move the team out of Charlotte, where the Panthers have built a strong fan base that stretches across two states while based in one of the country’s fastest-growing cities.

“It’s a vibrant community that is adding rather than subtracting. That’s a positive,” Ganis said.

“The people there have now grown up with this team. It’s been there 20-some odd years and so there’s a real connections between generations of fans and the team itself.”

Ganis pointed to a couple of factors working against Charlotte – the area’s still relatively small market size and the ongoing controversy surrounding HB2, the transgender bathroom bill that has prompted the NBA, NCAA and ACC to pull sporting events from the state.

Despite being a small-market team, a league official said the Panthers have strong corporate sponsors.

But for Ganis, the future of the Panthers still comes back to the stadium.

Team spokesman Steven Drummond said the Panthers have spent $91 million of their money in renovations over the past four years. They’ve improved their suites, club levels and concourses, and added new escalators, videoboards and an updated sound system.

Since-retired deputy city manager Ron Kimble told council members in January the city faces a difficult decision after the Panthers’ tether expires in 2023. Kimble said the city might have to help fund a new stadium to keep the team in Charlotte.

Ganis thinks Charlotte leaders should approach Richardson to see if his original, 15-year offer still stands.

“I would go back to Jerry Richardson and say, ‘Would you consider that deal we turned down (four) years ago?’” Ganis said. “This is the man to do it with. ... You don’t want to do it with another owner who may have just spent $2 billion (to acquire the team).”

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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