Panthers’ new owner talks about facilities upgrades
David Tepper walked into a suite in Bank of America Stadium that was decorated with all the black-and-blue trappings of enormous circumstance.
Cameras clicked and dozens of reporters leaned forward in their neatly arranged seats toward a tall, blue-lit podium, and the new owner of the Carolina Panthers began to speak.
"Listen," Tepper said. "It's a new day for the organization."
Change has come for the Panthers. And Tepper made it clear on Tuesday where he'll start: With facilities, where he said the team is lagging behind much of the NFL.
Tepper said a "top priority" will be the construction of a new practice facility.
"Being one of the few places that doesn't have a new practice field, obviously we're in need," he said.
The Panthers currently practice at an open-air facility that has two natural grass fields and one turf field, adjacent to Bank of America Stadium. There is no cover for rain, and at times in poor conditions the team has had to work out in the Charlotte Convention Center a few blocks away.
Tepper added that moving the practice fields elsewhere clears room for other development. Some teams have added more parking or entertainment districts, and both increase revenue.
"There is other development (opportunity) here," Tepper said. "We do (need to) move the practice field somewhere other than right next to the stadium. ... You do open up a lot of area for development."
Other organizations have built state-of-the-art facilities in a location separate from their stadium, including the Dallas Cowboys' "Star," a multi-use facility in Frisco, Texas.
The Observer reported last month that Tepper's team has been mulling the idea of a covered practice facility just over the state line in South Carolina. Tepper remarked several times that he wanted to continue the legacy of the Panthers belonging to both states, so moving the practice fields seems like a logical option.
A new-old stadium
Another key item on Tepper's initial to-do list involves Bank of America Stadium.
"I can't talk about a new practice field without talking about a new stadium," he said. "As I said before, I view this as the Carolina Panthers in both states. So we have to think about that."
Tepper also made it clear that the logical place for the stadium is in its current location in Uptown Charlotte. However, he added that renovation is necessary.
Tepper also wants to make more use of the stadium. Concerts and events build revenue, but were never a possibility under former owner and founder Jerry Richardson. More events might keep the stadium open year-round for retail and food and drink availability, depending on the type of renovation or expansion Tepper has in mind.
And maybe there would be room for soccer, too.
"If we do development here, that's new development that keeps people here not just on game day," said Tepper, speaking hypothetically, "and we open up for other things, and I make an investment in MLS (Major League Soccer) and I bring that in here, I bring that many more dollars into the community. That's business in the community and that's more tax dollars generated."
But Tepper said it's about building a deeper community rooted in the stadium, too.
"It's not just the business things. It's also a matter of things like high school games," he said. "I kind of think that high school championships should be played in that stadium, that's what I think ...
"I want to utilize that stadium a lot more because I think that's important in being a member of the community."
A new era in sports betting
This summer, the Supreme Court ruled that states may decide for themselves whether to legalize sports betting, a multi-billion dollar industry.
And the possible legalization of sports betting in North Carolina — and South Carolina — could allow the Panthers to dip into that pool with corporate sponsorships and perhaps even on-site gambling.
A hedge fund manager worth $11 billion, Tepper is a businessman who is intrigued, understandably, by the possibility of incorporating sports betting into an NFL franchise.
A bill is in committee in the House of Representatives in South Carolina, but no such bill to legalize sports betting has been introduced in North Carolina.
Tepper thinks that's only a matter of time.
"Eventually, it's going to hit North and South Carolina," he said. "It has to, from a revenue standpoint. You have issues with paying teachers and other things down here, tax revenue, so it's inevitable."
Tepper called the possible introduction of sports betting into the NFL an "advantage."
And somehow, he wants to marry the revenue available from sports betting with perfecting the fan experience.
"When we're thinking about these things, we have to take that into consideration because you know, we want to make sure fans are in that building and sharing this team," he said.
"We have to think about what fans may want, and to make sure that they're in our building to cheer (the team) on, because I believe that an active fan base (is) the '12th man.'
"And I want to make sure that the '12th man is in that stadium.'"