Dec 7, 2023 - Business

When Tepper asks the city for public money, will it matter that the Panthers aren’t winning?

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 1: An aerial view of the Charlotte skyline a day before the ACC Championship between Florida State and Louisville at Bank of America Stadium on December 1, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)

There are factors to consider before giving taxpayer money to a billionaire for an NFL stadium.

  • Among them: what the return on investment is, how many jobs it’ll create and whether this will amplify Charlotte’s image.
  • Another is whether the team’s performance affects the fate of its public funding.

Driving the news: Charlotte leaders anticipate Panthers owner David Tepper will ask next year for a public investment in Bank of America Stadium.

  • City council already discussed this year a $1.2 billion renovation plan in a closed-door session, WSOC reported. Half of that, $600 million, could come from taxpayers.
  • So far this season, the team has lost 11 games, and any playoff dreams are just that.

Why it matters: If the city doesn’t contribute, Tepper could threaten to move the team to another market more willing to put taxpayer dollars toward a stadium.

  • It’s been years since Charlotte enjoyed the economic benefits of a winning NFL team.
  • But the economic impact of a winning versus a losing team may be insignificant to begin with, economists suggest.

“The reality is that the NFL wants to be in Charlotte,” says J.C. Bradbury, an economics professor at Kennesaw State who grew up in Charlotte. “The reason they located the team in Charlotte is because they see it’s a rising, growing, wealthy population center, where they make a lot of money.”

  • Consider the Houston Oilers, for example. They left, and the Texans appeared.

What they’re saying: “Bank of America Stadium is a tremendous community asset,” the city wrote in a statement, “that creates a direct economic benefit for residents and businesses in Charlotte by attracting a variety of events (in addition to Panthers games).”

  • 14.5% of workers in the Charlotte metro area are in the leisure and hospitality industry, the spokesperson noted.
  • They added that in addition to supporting local jobs and businesses, events at the stadium “raise the city’s profile nationally and contribute significantly to the city’s culture.”

Council member Malcolm Graham, the city’s economic development committee chair, says he would consider the stadium’s “$1.5 billion of economic impact” and the city’s tourism workers, rather than the team’s track record, if asked to vote on a public contribution. (Graham says he’s seen that $1.5 billion number in briefing materials.)

  • “I would love to have a ticker-tape parade celebrating a Super Bowl. That would be more economic impact,” he says. “Listen, I understand, they’re having an off season. It doesn’t look good. But folks are still going to the games … they’re still supporting Charlotte FC, they’re still going to Beyoncé concerts, etc. I’m able to separate the two, hoping that they will turn the corner.”

Between the lines: The team is 30-64 under Tepper’s ownership. Since he bought the franchise in 2018, he’s gone through six head coaches. Most recently, he fired Frank Reich after 11 games.

The other side: TSE built an MLS headquarters in east Charlotte and funded stadium renovations without taxpayer assistance. Eventually, Tepper has said he’d like to create a booming entertainment district around the stadium.

  • He started hosting big-name concerts at Bank of America Stadium, something former owner Jerry Richardson hardly ever did.
  • The days when the stadium holds events are the days Uptown sees the highest number of visitors, up to 264,000.

“This asset is bigger than sports,” says council member James “Smuggie” Mitchell. “But I would say this: If they were 12 and 0, it’d be a lot easier for us.”

  • Mitchell says when negotiations get underway, he’ll be looking at the community benefits and ensuring the city can continue renting the stadium at no cost. As part of a past deal, the city can use the stadium five days a year, which is how the Duke’s Mayo Bowl is hosted.

All signs suggest that a formal ask is coming. The General Assembly recently extended Mecklenburg County’s 1% tax at restaurants and bars until 2060. The revenue source would help pay for any stadium improvements.

  • The Panthers are exploring the option of tearing down the practice bubble, site plans obtained by Axios show. That’s in line with the WSOC report that says the $1.2 billion in renovations included a new practice facility at the site of the current bubble.
  • Dodson, on behalf of the city, signed the rezoning documents as the property owner.
  • A TSE spokesperson declined to comment on the public funding ask.

Zoom out: Sports stadiums are bad public investments, economist Bradbury says. Studies show it would not boost the economy and create jobs as much as proponents suggest, he says.

  • “The impact is really insignificant,” he says, “because what happens when people don’t go to Panthers games is they go and they spend their money on other things, normally locally.”

The Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance is “100%” behind hospitality taxes to build, enhance, retain and maintain assets,” says president Mohammad Jenatian.

  • “I hate to say it this way, but even when the Carolina Panthers are not winning, which means there are more tickets available for the fans from opposing teams to come to Charlotte, those people from other cities have been coming over here, packing up hotels and restaurants,” Jenatian says.
  • “Basically, Bank of America Stadium, regardless of what event they have over there, has been absolutely phenomenal for our industry.”
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