Down the line, new Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is expected to make sweeping changes to get a return on his $2.275 billion investment.
The hedge fund manager has said building state-of-the-art practice facilities is a top priority, for instance. He’s also hinted strongly at investing in Major League Soccer.
He’s mulling how to capitalize on sports betting if it is legalized in North Carolina. And he’ll look to transform the 22-year-old Bank of America Stadium into a facility that sets the standard for the rest of the NFL.
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But major upgrades take time. For now, Tepper is working to put together a team capable of executing the owner’s “winning” strategy off the field. With the season about to start, Tepper’s focus is making sure fans are happy — through the success of the football team, through technology and other upgrades at the stadium and through connecting with the community.
“Before talking about adding more trains to the track, you’ve got to make sure the existing trains run on time,” said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports business consultant who advises NFL team owners on business matters.
But, Ganis added, “When someone pays $2.3 billion for a sports team, it’s not to maintain the status quo.”
What to expect this season
At the first home game of the regular season Sept. 9, fans will notice some ways Tepper is already working to improve the experience at Bank of America Stadium — small changes intended to get people to show up, and to keep them engaged.
One of the biggest updates so far is that the number of TVs on the 100- and 500-level concourses has doubled. Additionally, large LED boards have been added to the the club level so that fans there can share the “in-bowl” experience. The Panthers have added digital menu boards at concession stands throughout the stadium, too.
A few weeks ago, the Panthers launched a mobile app that allows some fans to order and pay for food and drinks from their seats, then retrieve their order at a nearby pick-up point. The initial rollout of the service will be on the 100-level concourse, the team has said.
Another major feature of the app is mobile ticketing, which is replacing print-at-home PDF tickets. The PDF tickets, the team has said, will no longer be valid for entry.
David Carter, University of Southern California’s Marshall Business School executive director and principal of The Sports Business Group, noted that NFL teams nationwide are making incremental upgrades to make sure fans show up and are engaged.
“What is going to make you get off your couch? One of the things we’ll watch for is will he incorporate that into his game plan,” Carter said of Tepper.
It’s not unusual to see Tepper, whose colleagues call him “Dave,” out in the Charlotte community these days.
Clad in shorts with a beer in hand, Tepper was out tailgating with fans before the Panthers’ first home preseason game against the Miami Dolphins on Aug. 17. On Tuesday, Tepper and several Panthers players, through their respective foundations and personal contributions, distributed 12,000 backpacks and school supplies to 18 schools in the Charlotte area.
Looking ahead, Tepper will look to tap into additional revenue sources at Bank of America Stadium.
Under team founder Jerry Richardson, the Panthers were “rather modest” in terms of involvement with sponsors, said Ganis, the Chicago-based consultant, who expects that to change under Tepper. That means, for instance, selling naming rights to different areas of the stadium.
Holding more events such as concerts at the stadium, which Tepper has said is a priority, is a way to get more exposure for sponsors too.
More events will make the stadium usable for other parts of the year, and will provide profit-making and employment opportunities for food and drink vendors as well. Tepper’s even mentioned hosting high school football games at the stadium, even though those are not necessarily money-making events.
“I want to utilize that stadium a lot more because I think that’s important in being a member of the community,” Tepper said in his opening press conference in July. Tepper was not available for an interview for this story.
Behind the scenes, Tepper has been quietly putting new executives in place. Last week, the team announced Tom Glick will become the team president, charged with the day-to-day business operations.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles has spoken with Tepper since he bought the Panthers, but has not yet spoken to him about involving the city in his plans for stadium upgrades and new practice facilities. “Mr. Tepper has said he would like to do something when he has a new president,” Lyles said.
“I expect we will have additional conversations going forward now.”
Staff writer Jourdan Rodrigue contributed.