Panther Tracks

Carolina Panthers’ winning fuels fan club’s rapid growth

Carolina Panthers fans assemble in Atlanta's Marshalling Yard for the Roaring Riot tailgate in December 2015
Carolina Panthers fans assemble in Atlanta's Marshalling Yard for the Roaring Riot tailgate in December 2015 Observer file photo

Being a professional Carolina Panthers fan was always a goal for Zack Luttrell – and now, his job is busier than ever.

He founded the Roaring Riot, Charlotte-based fan club, in 2008. As the team’s gotten better and more popular, Luttrell’s spent more time visiting prospective tailgate spots across the county, coordinating group trips to away games and establishing new chapters.

When the Panthers’ near-perfect season ended in February, the Roaring Riot boasted a membership of just under 2,200. Seven months later, the club has swelled to 3,300 dues-paying members, cheering for Carolina from New York to Los Angeles to New Zealand.

And in Charlotte, the club’s tailgates have gotten so big that this year, unlike in years past, fans must be members in order to attend.

The team’s success has provided an undeniable boon to uptown businesses, including the franchise itself. But it’s also attracted new fans around the world, and Luttrell said the Roaring Riot aims to provide a way for them to connect.

“Just to be so far ahead of where we ended, that has to do with the success that we had in helping spread the word of our club, and certainly the success of our team. Cam and Luke helped out quite a bit as well,” Luttrell said of the Panthers quarterback and linebacker.

The club now has chapters in 30 U.S. cities, up from just seven last season. And for the first time, the club has a presence in all eight cities where the Panthers will play away games.

The team’s growing recognition has been especially helpful in cities such as New Orleans with intense home-team loyalty and relatively recent Super Bowl titles, Luttrell added.

“It’s not like they’re saying ‘We’ll let some Panthers fans in,’” Luttrell said of bars hosting Panthers fans. “They’re saying ‘The team that was in the Super Bowl, representing the NFC, we’ll let their fans in because we know it’s going to be a high-demand game.”

In Charlotte, the club hosts massive home-game tailgate parties near the train tracks off Cedar Street. Luttrell said he anticipates he’ll have to increase catering orders from Dilworth Neighborhood Grill by about 25 percent to keep up with growing demand.

“Even though we are going members-only we don’t really anticipate the number of attendees to go down,” Luttrell said.

It’s not all about the partying, though.

Last year, the club donated $13,000 in net proceeds from its home tailgates in Charlotte to three nonprofits – the Isabella Santos Foundation, the Panthers’ Keep Pounding fund and Operation Smile.

Starting this year, tailgate proceeds will go to Cam Newton’s foundation, which helps support organizations that serve at-risk children, like Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the Second Harvest Food Bank. Luttrell said he anticipates donations from the year will be up to $30,000.

Membership in Roaring Riot costs $25, and, new to the club this year, $45 for a household of two and $10 for every kid thereafter. To have an official Roaring Riot chapter, a city must have 25 dues-paying members, and a bar dedicated to showing Panthers games, Luttrell said.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta