Scott Fowler

10 questions (and answers) about the future of the Carolina Panthers under David Tepper

Billionaire hedge-fund manager David Tepper held an introductory press conference in Charlotte Tuesday and one thing was for sure – change is coming.
Billionaire hedge-fund manager David Tepper held an introductory press conference in Charlotte Tuesday and one thing was for sure – change is coming. Charlotte Observer

One of the things most obvious about new Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is his energy.

Tepper’s first Charlotte press conference Tuesday was notable both for the bounce in Tepper’s step and the big ideas he threw around with the sort of easy confidence that a 60-year-old businessman who is worth $11 billion can muster.

With that news conference as the base, I’m going to throw in a little speculation and make some educated guesses at what is on the horizon for the Panthers from an off-the-field standpoint. Let’s do it in 10 questions and answers, shall we?

Q. Will the Panthers build a retractable roof atop Bank of America Stadium?

A. No way. This has been a rumor for years, in part owing to the “Let’s host a Super Bowl in Charlotte” pipe dream. But a retractable roof costs so much to retrofit over an existing stadium that this is simply not going to happen.

That doesn’t mean Bank of America Stadium won’t look very different in five to 10 years. It will. The stadium needs a “redo,” in Tepper’s words Tuesday, because it is “old.”

The stadium has only been open since 1996, and it’s already old? I’ve got T-shirts older than that. But that’s the way of the NFL world, and at least Tepper doesn’t sound like he will be campaigning for a new stadium. He just wants this one thoroughly remodeled (with the help of tax dollars, of course).

Q. Will the team have a new practice facility in South Carolina?

A. They are going to have a new one somewhere. Going just across the border to South Carolina (likely into the Fort Mill-Rock Hill-Carowinds area) seems like about an 80 percent certainty to me. Expect the practice facility to have a roof — those are just about standard in the NFL now — and be tied to some sort of commercial real estate development like ones built by the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots, among others.

This practice-day move to South Carolina would be a bit of a “back to the future” moment for the Panthers. I still remember driving to Winthrop every fall weekday to cover Carolina practices back in 1995, before the current fields were finished. Tepper said a new practice setup was a “top priority” for the Panthers, who he added were “falling behind a little bit” on their facilities.

Q. Will the Panthers stay at Wofford College in Spartanburg for training camp?

A. For the short term, yes. Carolina had previously signed a contract through the summer of 2019 to hold training camp at former owner Jerry Richardson’s alma mater.

For the long term, I would say the answer is almost certainly “no.”

The Carolina Panthers have spent the summer at Wofford College in Spartanburg since their inception, but that may change starting in 2020. David T. Foster III

Tepper has no connection to Wofford and certainly isn’t going to stay there out of sentimentality. But he will have a major financial connection to wherever the Panthers place that opulent new practice facility. Fewer teams hold their training camps at small college campuses now. The Panthers appear destined to joining the ranks of keeping it all in-house by 2020 or shortly thereafter.

Q. Will a Major League Soccer team ultimately share Bank of America Stadium with the Panthers?

A. I hope so. And simply from the way Tepper has mentioned MLS expansion twice in his two Panthers-related press conferences, you can tell this is a real dream of his.

MLS, a favorite among the millennial crowd, would be crazy not to want an owner with Tepper’s deep pockets and with a stadium already in hand that has already shown its ability to be converted into a soccer field many times in the past. (It was the stadium issue that previously doomed Speedway Motorsports’ bid for a Charlotte MLS team in 2017 — that group had no access to Bank of America Stadium, though, and was trying to build its own venue).

Yes, MLS ideally prefers soccer-specific stadiums. But a market such as Charlotte and an owner such as Tepper might well be enough to overcome those reservations. Having an MLS team in Charlotte would be key in Tepper’s quest to use more stadium dates than the current 12 to 15. Each MLS team in 2018 has 17 home games.

Q. Will Tepper really follow through on changing the Panthers’ workplace culture?

A. I believe he will. Surely Tepper, 60, is smart enough not to run an organization in which the workplace misconduct that undid Jerry Richardson is so easy to hide behind non-disclosure agreements for years. One of my favorite quotes from Tepper’s Charlotte press conference was this: “This is going to be an open place where people are going to have the right people to talk to. … And by the way, if I do something incredibly stupid, they should be talking about me. That’s what this place is going to be.”

Q. Will the Panthers play in a new home stadium in the next 10 years?

A. No — as long as Tepper doesn’t get into a big political fight with Charlotte politicians. I think the stadium — as well as the permanent-seat license holders who have bought their same seats for decades in that stadium — are safe for the near future.

Q. Will the Panthers be well-positioned to take advantage of sports gambling?

A. Undoubtedly. In May, the Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on sports gambling. Almost every state is expected to eventually allow sports betting, with the restrictions varying by state. Tepper is a forward thinker on this issue. If the state of North Carolina allows it, I would not be surprised to see a casino or a betting parlor of some type on the site of the Panthers’ current practice fields — adjoined with a fancy hotel and some upscale restaurants in a new, EpiCentre-like development — within 10 to 15 years.

Q. Will the Jerry Richardson statue truly stick around forever?

A. Richardson insisted that the 13-foot statue of himself stay at the north gate of the stadium in the contract to sell the team to Tepper. This was an astoundingly misguided display of hubris on Richardson’s part but I’ve devoted enough space to that issue already. I will just say that few things last forever, and despite that contractual obligation, I believe we will see the day that the statue celebrating Richardson bringing the NFL to Charlotte is moved from its current perch.

Q. Will high school football championships be played in Bank of America Stadium?

A. Yes. A number of NFL teams do allow their stadiums to be used for these games, which don’t really help the bottom line much but do spread a lot of community goodwill. I always thought this was one of Richardson’s flaws — how he absolutely refused to have big high school football games in the state’s signature stadium. Given that Tepper has opened this door, I imagine it will be walked through very soon.

Q. Are the jobs of Ron Rivera and Marty Hurney safe?

A. The Panthers coach and general manager absolutely are — for another year. That’s how the NFL business goes. Tepper loves them both now and that makes sense — Carolina has made the playoffs four of the past five seasons.

But if the Panthers go 4-12 this season? All bets are off.