New owner isn’t taking Panthers away

By Jeff Linville -
Jeff Linville News Editor -

Wow, just wow.

Sources close to the Carolina Panthers disclosed the purchase price for the NFL team Wednesday, and the sum breaks the record for any sports franchise in U.S. history.

David Tepper (and what I presume will be a minority owner or two) will spend $2.275 billion to buy the team from owner Jerry Richardson.

The previous high for an NFL team was the Buffalo Bills sale for $1.4 billion. The high for any sport was the Houston Rockets last year for $2.2 billion.

That’s incredible — and makes me feel oddly proud. This isn’t some team in New York City or L.A. or Chicago. This is a team in North Carolina, a state that George Shinn and Ray Woolridge fled with the Hornets franchise in 2002 because they didn’t believe they could be successful here.

News stories at that time made sure to point out that the Hornets’ average attendance was 11,286, worst in the league that season, at the 19,925-seat Charlotte Coliseum. Reporters made it seem like the city couldn’t support a professional franchise.

(Of course those articles typically forgot to mention that the Hornets led the league in attendance for years until the Hornets kept trading away fan favorites.)

The funny thing was that the Panthers already were in Charlotte by that time and were having no trouble selling permanent seat licenses and tickets.

Some ESPN talking heads refer to Charlotte as a small-market city, saying it doesn’t have the TV audience or the nearby population to fill seats.

In a general view, this is true. Charlotte doesn’t have anywhere near the population of the largest cities.

According to census figures, New York has 8.2 million people, L.A. 3.8 million, Chicago 2.7 million, Houston 2.1 million and Philly 1.5 million.

At 731,424, Charlotte ranked 17th in the census. Still, that’s actually better than a lot of other NFL cities: Detroit, Boston/New England, Seattle, Denver, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Baltimore, Kansas City, Miami, Oakland, Minneapolis, Cleveland, New Orleans, Tampa, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinatti. The city limits of Charlotte has almost three times as many people as Buffalo.

A list of TV markets (from the Nielsen rankings) has Charlotte in 22nd place, slipping below Boston, Detroit, Seattle, Denver, Cleveland, and St. Louis, despite the larger population, saying that those cities have more folks in the suburbs just outside the city lines to watch games.

What that list doesn’t reveal, however, is that the Panthers have a much bigger draw than that.

The Raleigh/Durham TV market is ranked 24th and the Winston-Salem/Greensboro market is 46th. What game do you reckon is shown on Sundays in those cities? In South Carolina, the Greenville/Spartanburg market is 37th, and you know the Panthers hold summer training camp every year in Spartanburg so you know who those residents watch.

From Bank of America Stadium southwest to the Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium is 241 miles. Due west to the Tennessee Titans’ Nissan Stadium in Nashville is 409 miles. Northwest to the Redskins’ FedEdField is 411 miles.

You see? That leaves an enormous gap between those franchises that the Panthers can fill.

Compare that to Cleveland where the Steelers are only 130 miles to the southeast, and the Lions are about that same distance across Lake Erie. Or how Indianapolis and Cincinnati are only 110 miles apart. Cleveland itself might have the #19 TV market, but the team isn’t going to draw fans very far from the city limits.

The Colts (#27) and Bengals (#36) both have smaller TV markets than Charlotte and likely don’t get the same widespread draw with other teams so close.

With the Panthers being sold to a new owner, a lot of people are worried that the team might be moved to another city like the Hornets were. I just don’t see that happening. The Panthers have set deep roots into the soil here over the past quarter-century, and it doesn’t make sense to move. No way the other NFL owners would approve a relocation out of this market.

Besides, David Tepper has been a minority owner in the Steelers. He certainly understands small markets. He grew up in Pittsburgh and was a Steelers fan. Having a 5-percent stake in the team for nine years, he has seen that a team can be profitable and successful without being based in one of the top-10 metropolitan areas.

According to attendance figures from the NFL, the Panthers were eighth this past season with an average of 73,617 people at games, while the Steelers were 27th with 62,471. An extra 11,000 fans paying admission has to sound pretty tasty to the billionaire.

Don’t worry about the Panthers going anywhere in the near future.

Jeff Linville News Editor Linville News Editor

By Jeff Linville

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.