Although a bit wet and gloomy at the onset, our experience at Bank of America Stadium with the Carolina Panthers was certainly a highlight of our time in Charlotte thus far and nonetheless fulfilling. Our two guides, Ryan Petrus and Bonnie Almond, were great! They and 2 colossal panthers greeted us at an entrance where they kicked off our experience by introducing themselves and briefly sharing their background and experiences. Following the intro, we were given a quick history of the team, the facility, and the owner, Jerry Richardson. Mr. Richardson, a North Carolina native, played college football at Wofford college in South Carolina (were the team has its preseason camp), and later had a short career playing in the NFL. Richardson used a bonus check from the NFL of about $3k to invest in a Hardee’s franchisee called Spartan Foods, where he would make enough money to start an NFL franchise. Bank of America Stadium opened in the summer of 1996 and was specifically designed for football. The 75,000 seat venue was privately financed by Richardson’s money, a few other investors, and largely by the use of permanent seat licenses (PSL’s) – about $180M. From our class materials and Ryan and Bonnie, we learned that PSL’s are paid licenses that entitles the holder to the right to buy season tickets for a certain seat in a stadium. PSL’s help pay the construction debt and ongoing maintenance costs for Bank of America Stadium, one of only three privately financed stadiums in the NFL. Before leaving the impressive scowling black cats, Ryan pointed out the engraved names at the base of the statues, which displayed the names of those original PSL investors who were critical in the erection of Bank of America Stadium. I thought this was a neat way to pay tribute to those who gave their hard earned money, but also shed light on the fact that it took the contributions of many to make this great facility a reality.
Our tour continued upstairs to the Panthers’ Press Box Lounge where discussion about Mr. Richardson continued. It was noted that Mr. Richardson, being a prideful Carolinian, deliberately incorporates subtle acknowledgements of his state’s history into the Panthers’ organization. For example, outside of the Press Box Lounge both North and South Carolina’s state flags are hoisted; flowers that outline the venue are the state flowers of both states; when constructing the stadium, only dirt from North and South Carolina were hauled in and used as foundation; and the franchise name, the Carolina Panthers, represents both states, not just the northern territory. When this was pointed out to us, I also found it interesting that other than one other team, Minnesota, the Panthers team name represent the states rather than a specific city. Nonetheless, it was very neat to find out that trifling details such as these are intentional and have significance.
Next up: suite life. Pun intended, these premium seating areas were nothing short of sweet. There are 153 luxury suites on the 300 and 400 club levels in the stadium, ranging from 12-person suites to 44-person suites. The stadium also has larger club suites which are shared exclusive areas for members only. The four suite clubs are The Suite 87 Club, The 32 Club, The Fifty One Club and The Gridiron Club, which is the only club we had the opportunity to view. The Gridiron Club includes terrace level seats outside for its 282 members, and a climate controlled lounge inside. The 10,000-square foot club is loaded with leather theatrical seats and outside TV monitors with an overhang that protects members from the elements. Before leaving the club, Bonnie and Ryan fielded a series of questions from our group pertaining to career and professional development and best practices for new grads entering into the professional work force. Again, both Ryan and Bonnie were informative and certainly straight forward in their responses, frankly telling us what we needed to know not necessarily what we would like to hear.
Our adventure ended in front of the Panther Team Store, which also is on site. In fact, the entire stadium is designed as a self-contained headquarters for the Carolina Panthers, which includes training facilities, practice fields (2 grass, 1 turf) and all administrative offices. Ensuing a last minute Q&A session, and final words from our gracious hosts, we raided the team store, looking for exclusive, official team gear and memorabilia, considering that at that point our hopes of running into Cam, Luke, or Olsen seemed to be slim to none. As we headed toward the bus, it was very fitting that the sun had crept through the clouds and the rain had slowed to a faint drizzle after such a positive experience. As is common place, we concluded our visit at the venue with a group picture, and it was only right that we strike a Cam Newton-esque dab to capture the enjoyment and fun from our morning spent at Bank of America Stadium.
–Student Reflection, Jared Carpenter, Master of Science in Recreation and Sport Administration