Opinion: Daily Journal

The Big Cat (allegedly) misbehaved; will N.C. taxpayers get the tab?

If the Panthers' new owners want a costly new playhouse for the team, expect all of us to foot the bill

CJ file photo
CJ file photo

Almost as shocking as the allegations of sexual and racial misconduct about Carolina Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson published Friday was the news Sunday night that the founding owner of the NFL franchise would sell it at season’s end.

The club also announced Monday Richardson immediately would surrender daily management responsibilities.

The initial buzz centered on who might buy the team (P. Diddy? NBA MVP/Davidson College alum Steph Curry? The Belk family? NASCAR hero/villain Bruton Smith?) and whether the franchise would face penalties from the NFL if a league investigation concludes Richardson indeed maintained a hostile work environment.

What really matters, though, is the amount for which taxpayers of Charlotte (or North Carolina in general) will be held hostage to keep the team on Mint Street. Because the ransom notes are coming soon.

Four U.S. metropolitan markets bigger than No. 17 Charlotte are without NFL franchises: Columbus, Ohio (15th); Austin, Texas (11th); San Diego (8th); and San Antonio (7th).

If you follow sports, you know the Chargers left San Diego for Los Angeles two years ago and still have an empty NFL-ready stadium.

Oakland has the nation’s 45th-largest metro market, and will see the Raiders depart for Las Vegas. But the locals are nuts for football and recently offered to spend tax dollars upgrading what was jokingly called the Oakland/Alameda County Mausoleum.

St. Louis isn’t as large as Oakland, but the Rams recently left, also for L.A., and the Edward Jones Dome is several years newer than Atlanta’s recently demolished Georgia Dome.

Investors in San Antonio kicked the tires on the Chargers, Raiders, and Rams when those teams were on the move. The city’s Alamo Dome also hosted New Orleans Saints games right after Hurricane Katrina.

So several likely suitors would court a successful NFL team with charismatic players like Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. Forbes recently valued the Panthers franchise at $2.3 billion, or roughly 10 times what the Big Cat paid for the team in 1993.

Unlike the Carolina Hurricanes, which has a lease with PNC Arena through 2024 that would cost millions to terminate, the Panthers could leave Charlotte pretty easily after Richardson sells.

The Charlotte Observer reported that in June 2019 the city will have a modest financial hold on the franchise. Charlotte could buy the stadium for $1 or the team’s new owner could get out of the lease by retiring the debt on recent stadium improvements — about $30 million or $40 million, the Observer estimates.

That’s a relative pittance if you’re paying more than $2 billion just to own the club.

Then the price to N.C. taxpayers of playing football starts going up.

The new owner of the Panthers probably will demand a facility worthy of hosting a Super Bowl or an NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four: In other words, a stadium that could seat 80,000 or more with a retractable roof and other amenities.

The street price for such places: at least $1.6 billion. Georgians just spent that on a new home for the Atlanta Falcons because the 25-year-old Georgia Dome wasn’t spiffy enough. Nevada taxpayers will cough up nearly $2 billion for the Las Vegas Stadium, forthcoming home of the nomadic Raiders.

Without an NFL team, Bank of America Stadium would have no principal tenant, making it a very expensive white elephant on prime Uptown real estate.

Pressure to keep the team in Charlotte will be relentless. Economic developers will devise fanciful models claiming a couple billion bucks for a new stadium would be a pittance compared to the economic and employment losses the city, the state, and the entire Southeast would suffer if the team left.

Never mind the growing body of academic literature showing major sports franchises don’t boost an area’s overall economic activity.

“If you ever had a consensus in economics, this would be it,” Michael Leeds, a sports economist at Temple University, told public radio’s Marketplace. “There is no impact.”

And forget the costs taxpayers have to shoulder subsidizing billionaire team owners and millionaire athletes.

Sadly, this probably won’t matter if the Panthers threaten to leave. Or if the new ownership group demands a pricey new playhouse.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.