CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Sunday marked the Panthers’ home opener against the Seattle Seahawks, just as the team prepares to finalize an agreement with the city of Charlotte for upgrades partially funded by taxpayers.
The city and the Panthers are expected to sign papers for the city’s $87.5 million contribution to the upgrades in the next couple of weeks, according to a report from the Charlotte Observer, NBC Charlotte’s news partner.
Fans that came to enjoy the game Sunday had mixed feelings about the money.
Jeremy Beckett and Shelley Sheedy drove from Rock Hill to enjoy the game. They think any money spent to keep the Panthers in Charlotte – what they believe upgrades really mean – is money well spent.
“They sold out 106 games. That's true,” said Beckett. “It's probably going to pay for itself.”
Sheedy points to a new ballpark being built for the Charlotte Knights, partially from money brought in by a hotel-motel tax. She believes what’s good for baseball is good for football, even if it comes from different sources.
“It’s good revenue,” she said. “It brings in revenue. It brings in families.”
But Bobby Smith, who lives in Charlotte, disagrees. He believes the upgrades, including bigger TV screens and escalators to top levels, aren’t a necessity to bring fans to games. Smith believes Charlotte has more pressing needs and that the Panthers are holding the city “hostage” to pay for things it could pay for itself.
A report in Deadspin said the team made $112 million in profit over the last two seasons, though the Panthers called the report an “incomplete” picture of the team’s finances.
“If they want to leave that bad, they're going to leave no matter how much you give them or how much you don't give them,” said Smith.
One economic study puts the Panthers’ annual financial impact on Charlotte at $363 million, and about 5,000 jobs.
Some of those dollars flow into Big Ben Pub on the light rail at Atherton Mill, where Ian Murray’s job as a bartender gets a lot more profitable on Sundays when the Panthers play in uptown.
Murray said fans often hop off the Lynx to buy dinner or grab a drink.
“All those things contribute to business here and help us out,” said Murray. He doesn’t have an opinion about the city’s contribution to upgrades, but he said he knows firsthand the dollars and “sense” of keeping the team.
“I think we would see a significant decrease in profits if people stopped coming from the Panthers games,” he said.