by Sam Hieb
Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last 24 hours, you’ve certainly heard that Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson plans to sell the team at the end of the 2017 season. Richardson’s announcement comes in the wake of a Sports Illustrated report detailing allegations of sexual harassment and use of racial slurs by Richardson:
During its own investigation in the weeks prior, SI learned that on multiple occasions when Richardson’s conduct has triggered complaints—for sexual harassment against female employees and for directing a racial slur at an African American employee—he has taken a leaf from a playbook he’s deployed in the past: Confidential settlements were reached and payments were made to complainants, accompanied by non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses designed to shield the owner and the organization from further liability and damaging publicity.
As you can probably imagine, the sale of the Panthers could have serious implications for the City of Charlotte. Those who’ve been around for a while might immediately have thought of the original Hornets owner George Shinn, who moved the team to New Orleans in the wake of his sexual assault trial. Without defending Shinn and without going to the entire history, it’s safe to say Charlotte’s NBA presence has never been the same.
Obviously the pressing question is what will become of the Panthers. Charlotte Observer takes look at that and other pressing questions:
Q. If a new owner wants to move the Panthers from Charlotte, how much protection does the city have to keep the NFL team?
A. The answer is only a little, and not for very long.
In April 2013, the Panthers and the Charlotte City Council signed an agreement that called for the public to spend $87.5 million on stadium improvements and game-day expenses. Most of that money – $75 million – was for stadium improvements such as new escalators.
In return, the city said it had a six-year “hard tether” that would keep the Panthers in Charlotte. This current season is the fifth in the six-year tether. The 2018-19 season will be the last in the tether, which officially expires in June 2019. The tether stays in place even if the team is sold.
The contract says that if the team seeks to leave during that window, the city can take them to Mecklenburg Superior Court to prevent them from leaving. But after June 2019, there is no requirement the team stay in Charlotte.
If the team leaves after June 2019, the contract says the city would have either the option of buying the stadium for $1 or the Panthers would pay the city the remaining debt payment on the city’s $75 million investment.
Former Panthers president Danny Morrison, who resigned in February, often said the team didn’t want a new stadium. He said the team likes the “classic bowl” of Bank of America Stadium, which he said has “good bones.” But a new owner might want a stadium that could host large events like Super Bowls and the NCAA Final Four. That would mean a domed stadium or a stadium with a retractable roof. The Atlanta Falcons moved into a new stadium this year that cost $1.6 billion.
Panthers fans should hope the sale is as quick and tidy as possible, because ownership issues can cripple a sports franchise for years.