Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has huge aspirations, and he’ll be pitching them all to local and state governments for their support.
Chief among his dreams is a new stadium in Charlotte with a retractable roof to be built within the next decade that could host not only NFL football, but set up North Carolina to hold a men’s basketball Final Four for the first time since 1994. It could fast-track a Major League Soccer franchise to the 704 and establish Charlotte as a true epicenter of the Carolinas for sports and entertainment.
Tepper spoke with the media following Panthers practice in Spartanburg on Wednesday. Here is what he had to say:
On beginning discussions of a Panthers stadium with a roof — ideally in uptown Charlotte — to eventually replace Bank of America Stadium.
“I’ve been talking about some sort of a new stadium. It’s really a whole, big statewide sort of deal. With stadiums, if you do a retractable roof, you have to do a real big open thing for this part of the country ... I’d really like to see basketball be played there, too. (Partner) with the ACC at some point, and try to do a broad strategy with North Carolina and South Carolina.
On what such a facility could draw:
“If we do football, and if we do end up with a soccer franchise, and then have all the other events there — have a Final Four there — that would be the cherry on top. It’s not like idle chatter; it’s something I’d really like to see done. To say that I’m going to do it in the next year, that’s not true. But to put something out in the future — say hey to the governor of North Carolina, to the mayor (of Charlotte), we need to be aspirational because this is a great area. We need to realize how great it can be,”
On chances of Charlotte getting an MLS expansion franchise:
“I think they came out with a statement after (the presentation) and it was a very simple statement. You saw they mentioned St. Louis first and they mentioned Charlotte second and they mentioned Sacramento third. I think that put us in the conversation. So I didn’t say it, they said it.”
On whether a new Panthers stadium would be near where the current one is located in uptown:
“If we can do something (in uptown), we would do that. To have something in Charlotte is great. If we can do it someplace near where we are, where so many people can walk to it, that’s a great place for a stadium. So you’d like it to be as close as where you are as you could in the future.
“There is different land around, so we may have to do something (elsewhere), but again it’s going to (have to) be with the city; we can’t do stuff by ourselves. It’s hard; you have to change a lot of zoning and other things.”
On how much conversation has there been with local and state government:
“Have we sat down to do a 10-year plan yet? No. But we’ve been doing a lot of things in the past year on the facility side. It’s not like we’ve been idle, but it’s first things first — like the (practice) bubble.
“If we want to have a long-range plan to think about this stuff — if it’s seven or eight years out — we have to start talking about it. So you guys can (ask), ‘How great do you want the Carolinas to be?’ Do you want Final Four basketball or not?’
“How the heck can you not have a Final Four in North Carolina when Indianapolis has one all the freakin’ time? It’s ridiculous. There is some pride involved here..”
On how a more multi-purpose stadium could draw national events to Charlotte:
“Charlotte is destined to be the sports-and-entertainment capital of the Carolinas. It’s in the center of the Carolinas, it’s untapped territory and we’re starting to move that way.
“When you see (the land under) that bubble, think secondary convention space (in the future). It’s a space as big as any (near) the convention center ... A 10-minute walk from the convention center as fast as any with absolute safety. It’s an interesting idea. If we have that bubble there for three years (while the York County training facility is completed), we’ll have something else there eventually.
David Tepper’s view of the competition from St. Louis and Sacramento for MLS franchises:
“In my mind, if you view the (Charlotte) soccer market as 1 1/2-hour (drive) from the stadium, it’s seven million strong: 3 million television households. That’s double the size measuring an hour and a half around either (Sacramento or St. Louis). This is a big untapped market. Last time I checked, St. Louis has a baseball team, so (soccer would) have some summertime competition. Hopefully, we could do it”
On whether Wofford and Spartanburg will continue hosting Panthers training camp while training facility is completed:
“There is a bubble there (in Charlotte), and I hear it rains sometimes and I hear it’s 100 degrees here sometimes. So it’s a question of (what’s best for) football. And I’ve said a million times it’s about football and making sure we’re the best we can be. So whether we come here or (have training camp temporarily in Charlotte) it’s about the best we can be. That’s what will drive that decision -- it will be a football decision.
Any options other than Wofford or holding camp in Charlotte?
“We’ve got that bubble (in Charlotte) and a lot of familiarity (with Wofford), so these have to be the top two choices.”