In 1995 the Carolina Panthers kicked off their inaugural season in the NFL. While Bank of America Stadium had not yet been built, and the team played their home games in Clemson, S.C., in many ways Charlotte had arrived.
Having an NFL franchise in town means being a part of an industry where individual teams can be worth billions of dollars. National media exposure is constantly heaped on the city. Every time the Panthers play it is an advertisement for Charlotte. Not only does the team employ players, coaches, and front office executives, but they help promote business in and around the stadium. The Panthers hire hundreds of employees that work on the day of events at the stadium. Bars, restaurants, parking lots, and hotels all sprung up because of the large number of people expected to be in the area during football games.
A great city does not require a professional football team. However, an NFL team brings business, notoriety, and a sense that you are significant. Green Bay and Buffalo have NFL franchises, so too does nearly every large population center in the country.
It is undeniable the way fans in the Carolinas have embraced the Panthers and how the team has become a source of pride for the city. The City Council last week voted to endorse a plan that will give the Panthers $125 million dollars to spruce up Bank of America Stadium. Compared to what other cities have gone through, this is a small investment for Charlotte in a very large enterprise.
At the same time that Charlotte welcomed the Panthers to the area, times were tough for professional football fans in Southern California. After nearly half a century in Los Angeles, the Rams moved to St. Louis. At the same time the L.A. Raiders returned to Oakland after leaving northern California in 1982. Raiders owner Al Davis moved his team from Oakland to L.A. after he failed to reach an agreement with Oakland officials on upgrades to the Oakland Coliseum. Davis became disgruntled with things in Los Angeles when the L.A. Coliseum was not up to his standards. Having been without pro football for more than a decade, and sensing Davis would be willing to return, Oakland spent the dollars necessary to improve their stadium and wooed the Raiders back to the Bay Area.
While Charlotte gained a team, and L.A. lost two franchises, the marriage between Cleveland and pro football was on shaky ground. Following the 1995 season, the Browns failed to get public money to build a new stadium and the team moved to Baltimore. Cleveland was left without a team for the first time since the 1940s. Baltimore attracted the Browns by building a new stadium for the team. Charm City reentered the NFL after failing to construct a new facility for the Colts who left for Indianapolis in the 1984. In 1999 Cleveland decided to spend the money to build a stadium and the city was awarded an expansion franchise.
To summarize, Oakland, Cleveland, and Baltimore all failed to upgrade their facilities and lost their teams. After some time the cities recognized a large enough void that they spent more money than was ever requested, upgraded or built new stadiums, and attracted teams back to their cities. Los Angeles is now in the process of putting together plans to build a new stadium and attract at least one and likely two teams.
For a short time it seemed that one of those teams might be the Vikings. Recently Minneapolis balked at building the Vikings a new stadium. After a visit from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell it was made clear that without a stadium the Vikings would move. Public funds to the tune of $500 million are going toward a new facility.
Things never got as urgent in Indianapolis where the city understood they would need to help build the Colts a new stadium to keep the franchise. Indianapolis chipped in $620 millions in a $720 million project to build the Colts a modern new home.
The Panthers are not asking for a new place to play. They want financial help in improving Bank of American Stadium. While $125 million is significant, it pales in comparison to what many cities have had to do to keep their teams. Even worse is the cost associated with losing a team and then working to regain a franchise. Carolina Panthers sounds better than Los Angeles Panthers.