Richardson forced to resign as Panthers owner, accept windfall from future stadium threats

It’s now been four days since the Carolina Panthers announced that owner Jerry Richardson was under investigation for workplace misconduct, and two days since Sports Illustrated revealed that the misconduct included routinely asking female employees to turn around so he could ogle their butts and then it was announced that Richardson would sell the team, and one day since Richardson stepped aside from running the team. So, of course, it’s time for the Charlotte Observer to ask if whoever ends up buying the Panthers will demand a new stadium:

Bank of America is now one of the oldest stadiums in the NFL. A new ownership group might want a more lavish stadium with a retractable roof, that would allow the city to host the NCAA Final Four and the Super Bowl.

“Bank of America Stadium, for the fall, is a fabulous facility for football,” said Marc Ganis, a sports consultant who advises NFL owners on stadium deals. “The concept that Jerry (Richardson) has of a ‘Stadium in a Park,’ has worked very well there.”

But wait, you, the devoted FoS reader, ask, didn’t the Panthers just get a whole bunch of money from Charlotte so he could build a giant statue of himself among other things, in exchange for a lease extension? Yes, but that extension was only for six years, and runs out in 2019, meaning the Panthers’ owner could move elsewhere as soon as the completion of next season and only pay a small financial penalty. Or, more to the point, can threaten to move at the completion of next season, in hopes of landing a huge financial windfall, whether for an entirely new stadium or for major renovations to their current one, which is an ancient 21 years old.

In fact, Richardson could be selling at just the right time: Whoever buys the Panthers will end up with not only a seat in one of America’s most exclusive clubs, but the ability to shake down either Charlotte or some other city or both for the biggest stadium subsidies they can get, without the baggage of being a hometown hero with a giant statue of themselves outside their home stadium. That should be good enough to create a nice premium on whatever price Richardson is looking to get for the team, which should help pay for settlements in all the new harassment lawsuits he’s no doubt going to be facing — and if you’re now thinking, “Does this mean that taxpayers somewhere are going to end up indirectly helping to pay the cost of Jerry Richardson’s crimes?”, maybe you don’t want to think about that too hard if you’re going to get through the day.

Panthers owner gets giant statue of self, endless Pepsi machines, at least one from public

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson got an $88 million gift from Charlotte city taxpayers in 2013 — after being invited to sit in on closed-door council meetings on the subsidy — to perform upgrades to the stadium that he himself owns. The Panthers just revealed the latest batch of goodies they’re building with the money, and they include:

  • “Four new security posts around the stadium to account for people coming onto the property and to account for people once they are inside the property,” according to Panthers exec Lance Emory.
  • Ninety-five new walkthrough metal detectors.
  • More WiFi access points.
  • Improvements to the top 500 level deck, including digital menu boards and all-you-can-drink Pepsi stations.

None of that is terrible stuff to add, though why it’s the responsibility of the city of Charlotte to add it remains baffling. (In return for the money, Richardson only promised to keep the team in town until 2019, which by one accounting is the third-richest per-year subsidy in NFL history.) If you want terrible stuff to add, you have to turn to this:

According to the Charlotte Observer, the two panthers “represent both offense and defense and North Carolina and South Carolina.” But you’d surely figured that out already.

I can’t find any reporting on how much the statue cost, let alone what money was used to pay for it, but given that it’s described as a birthday present from Richardson’s corporate partners, at best it’s something that they could afford to give him because of the $88 million in city cash that he brought in by hanging out with the city council back in 2013. Maybe those two cats in the statue represent something else as well, which suggests an even better nickname for the thing.

Inventor of PSLs says he never meant them to be a mere cash grab from fans

My Vice Sports colleague Aaron Gordon has a fascinating interview up today with sports marketer Max Muhleman, best known as the inventor of personal seat licenses. And he gets Muhleman to reveal something that I hadn’t heard before: The original idea for PSLs was not to charge for them at all, but rather use them as a reward for fan loyalty.

As the story goes, Muhleman’s first PSLs were developed for the then-expansion Charlotte Hornets, when owner George Shinn suggesting buying leather jackets for fans who’d put down non-refundable season ticket deposits without knowing if there would even be a team. Muhleman, who’d run the ticket drive, countered by suggesting that fans be allowed to pass their seats on to someone else if they gave them up, rather than having them go to the next person on the waitlist as was usual practice. He called this “charter seat rights.”

Then, history happened:

Muhleman never meant for the PSL to become an investment. It was simply about thanking the fans who pledged their own money to help support a new team or stadium. The idea of re-selling Charter Seat Rights didn’t even occur to Muhleman until he saw a classified ad in the paper after the Hornets’ incredibly successful inaugural season, when they sold out every game in the 23,000 seat arena. The ad read: “‘Leaving town. Two charter seat rights. $5000.” When Muhleman called the number, the person on the other end said they had already received about a dozen calls and they regretted not asking for $10,000.

Four years later, when Jerry Richardson was trying to raise money for a Carolina Panthers stadium, he turned to Muhleman, who remembered that classified ad. Eventually, the rebranded PSLs raised $92 million for Richardson at zero cost to him, and a revolution was born.

The Vice headline claims that Muhleman now “hates PSLs as much as you do,” and while I love a grabby headline as much as the next guy, it’s not quite accurate: He actually tells Gordon that he feels like PSLs have gotten so pricey that they’re just a money grab, losing the necessary balance of also building fan loyalty by offering them something in exchange for their fandom:

“I thought we were on to something that worked, that it made good music with the sport, the fan, the owners, we could all come together in a harmonious, mutually productive, helpful way,” he said. “But these programs I see, so many of them I can only say are unilateral, and unilateral in favor of ‘how much can we get out of these people?’ And I do not believe the path to success in sports is maximum leverage of fans.”

Of course, it depends on your meaning of “success.” When it’s a choice between hundreds of millions of dollars in cash now and potential good will down the road, that hasn’t been a decision that most NFL owners have had to think too hard about.

Charlotte Observer now serving as Panthers’ p.r. department on city-funded stadium upgrades

The Carolina Panthers have announced what they plan to do with the $87.5 million the city of Charlotte gave them last year for stadium renovations, and in one of the most egregious cases of stenography journalism in a long while, the Charlotte Observer chose to cover this by running a Storify consisting entirely of tweets from the team like this one:

But seriously, the Observer has to have covered this with a real news story, right? Okay, here’s one, and it consists of … just a summation of what the Panthers said, with the only quotes coming from team president Danny Morrison. (Though at least it does mention that the renovations are being paid for mostly by the city.) Not that this calls for a major investigation — the story today is the details of the renovation plans, not the funding plan — but it would be nice to give at least a hint of analysis of what the public is getting for its cash. Though really, who can put a price on the public benefit of seamlessly integrated escalators?

Eagles announce stadium upgrades, don’t announce public subsidy request, but will

The NFL approved league G-4 stadium funding yesterday for the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Philadelphia Eagles, as part of the expected shares of new or renovated stadiums that — whoa, wait, the Eagles? What are the Eagles doing on that list?

“We are excited to have received league support today for our stadium revitalization project at Lincoln Financial Field,” said Eagles President Don Smolenski. “We will share the details of this project with our fans in the coming weeks.”

And not just with fans, one hopes, but with Philadelphia legislators as well, since one of the conditions of the G-4 program language is that any funded projects must be “public-private partnerships.” So the only way this is going to work is if the Eagles seek some public money for upgrades to 10-year-old Lincoln Financial Field. If those cost $60 million to $100 million as previously projected, then we’re talking about $30 million to $50 million in public money. It’s the sort of thing you’d hope that any of the numerous articles about the renovation plan would have mentioned, but I guess it’s a lot to expect today’s newspaper journalists to think outside the press release.

Charlotte invited Panthers owner to closed meeting to demand stadium cash because “that’s what Jerry wanted”

When the Charlotte city council met on January 14 to approve subsidies to the Carolina Panthers for renovations to their privately owned stadium, members of the public were barred from attending, leading to a lawsuit for violating the state’s open meetings law. The only people allowed in the room were elected officials — oh, and one more person, according to Charlotte NPR station WFAE:

Generally “closed” means “closed,” because the council needs privacy to work out its negotiating strategy and terms, says City Attorney Bob Hagemann, because “you do not want to have those kinds of conversations in front of the other party to the negotiation.”

You certainly wouldn’t want to have them in front of the company’s CEO. . . right?

But that’s exactly what the city did with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.  He sat in on two of the four closed sessions council held to discuss using tax dollars for Panthers’ stadium renovations.  Minutes from those meetings show council members were fine with the arrangement. They still are.

“I don’t know if it was appropriate or not, but it was important to him,” says Councilman Andy Dulin. “It must have been of importance because he did show up – you know that put an exclamation point on the seriousness of the negotiations that some might not have done. I appreciated him being there.”

Councilman James Mitchell also appreciated Richardson coming and asking directly for the money: “I think that’s what Jerry wanted. I think Jerry wanted the council to know why he was doing this.”

And what did Jerry have to say during his private audience with council members? Fortunately, the council at least took minutes, which show that Richardson touted how he’d “gone to bat for the city” by getting the NFL to move its opening day to make way for the Democratic National Convention, plus talked about how he quit the NFL in a salary dispute. (Because he’s a hardball negotiator, see?) City attorney Bob Hagemann and deputy city manager Ron Kimble also warned that the Panthers were “ripe for courting” by Los Angeles.

As Deadspin remarks: “The system, every system, is rigged in the favor of the powerful; the council voted 7-2 in favor of funding the stadium.” Some are more rigged than others, though. The open-meetings case is expected to have its first hearing any day now; I can’t be the only one who can’t wait to see how this plays out.

Charlotte to pay Panthers $14.6m for each year they stay put through 2019

Oh, okay, fine, here’s some real news:

Charlotte’s city council voted unanimously Monday night to approve an agreement to provide $87.5 million for upgrades to the Carolina Panthers‘ 17-year-old stadium in exchange for a commitment to stay in North Carolina’s largest city for at least another six years.

This has been a foregone conclusion for a while now, but still, it’s worth noting that this is one of the weakest returns any city has gotten on a stadium subsidy, ever. Typical stadium deals involve a lot more public money, obviously, but they at least usually include, say, a 30-year lease. (Albeit sometimes a 30-year lease with a ridonkulous out clause.) Here, Charlotte has given Panthers owner Jerry Richardson $87.5 million in exchange for agreeing to stay put through 2019 — in a stadium he himself owns, meaning that to leave before 2019 the Panthers would need to find a city willing to build them a stadium, wait for it to be completed, and also figure out what to do with their current stadium once they’d abandoned it. But now Charlotte citizens can rest assured that that won’t happen, at least not for another six years.

Richardson also has promised he’d never move the team himself, which has led to one of the strangest developments in the history of stadium shakedowns: an NFL owner threatening that if he doesn’t get renovation subsidies, he will literally die.

The 76-year-old Richardson, who had a heart transplant a few years ago, said the deal was important to assuring the Panthers would stay in Charlotte upon his death.

During a presentation highlighting the deal, city officials said the Panthers would be sold no later than two years after Richardson’s death.

So let’s see, a six-year extension, and it would take two years to sell the team — Richardson is clearly planning to kick the bucket no later than 2017. Maybe he knows something we don’t know.

NC to let Charlotte give Panthers $88 million for no reason at all, if they want

The North Carolina legislature may not be willing to give Charlotte a restaurant-tax hike to pay for Carolina Panthers stadium renovations, but they did vote yesterday to allow Charlotte to use its existing hotel-tax money on the Panthers. Unanimously, even.

The problem for Charlotte now is that the hotel taxes are already being used to pay off the Charlotte Convention Center, so it’s not as simple as just handing the money over to the Panthers. Charlotte councilmember James Mitchell estimates that the city could maybe afford to give the Panthers $88 million, which is a lot less than the $206 million they’d initially requested. Mitchell said that “it’s time for us to re-engage with the Panthers and talk about a lower-cost upgrade to the stadium.”

Unfortunately, Mitchell also said that with less money at stake, there’s no way the Panthers will agree to a promise to stay put in Charlotte for 15 years in exchange for the stadium cash. Which makes you wonder why Charlotte would give them any money at all — a promise to stay put for only a few years isn’t worth squat, especially since any other city wanting to lure the team would take years just to get a stadium built. But apparently to some Charlotte lawmakers, getting something worthless for less is better than getting something marginally more valuable for more. Too bad there’s nobody in the state who could explain to them why this makes no sense.

Charlotte council sued for barring public from Panthers stadium vote

But enough about potential lawsuits. Let’s talk about an actual lawsuit:

A Charlotte lawyer on Tuesday accused the Charlotte City Council of violating North Carolina’s open meetings law when it agreed in closed session in January to support a tax hike for renovating Bank of America Stadium.

Paul Whitfield, in a motion filed in Superior Court, asked that the city be cited for contempt of court and fined at least $1.4 million. That’s 1 percent of the $144 million that City Council discussed giving to the Carolina Panthers for upgrading their stadium.

That’s right: Not only did the Charlotte city council utterly fail to convince the state to let it raise restaurant taxes to pay for upgrades to the Panthers‘ privately owned stadium (a bill to allow Charlotte to use existing taxes for that purpose continues to wend its way through the legislature, but Charlotte needs that money for other stuff), but apparently they also forgot that they’re under a permanent court injunction against violating the state open meetings law.

The council voted behind closed doors, councilmember Beth Pickering told the Charlotte Observer, because doing so openly might have led to “misimpressions.” This is going to be the awesomest court case ever.


Leaked docs show Panthers made $100m profit over two years while whining about 16-year-old stadium

The Deadspin tip line has turned up another doozy: audited internal financial documents that show that the Carolina Panthers turned a $112 million profit over the course of 2010 and 2011. That’s the same time period when Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was calling for a hard line in labor talks with players, declaring that league owners had “a negative cash flow of $200 million.”

Richardson, of course, is also demanding more than $200 million in public funds for stadium renovations, on the grounds that … well, he hasn’t actually said, other than hinting that Charlotte should be so happy to be allowed to have an NFL franchise that it should just throw money at it. That was already proving to be massively unpopular — 88% of state residents oppose it, the governor said he wouldn’t go for it, and yesterday a bipartisan group of state legislators reiterated that it was a no-go — and it’s only likely to get more so now that there’s evidence that Richardson is making money hand over fist at the old stadium.

Note, incidentally, that the lesson here isn’t necessarily that “Richardson can afford to pay for the renovations himself” — he can, in the sense that he has oodles of money, but he could also afford to buy a lifetime supply of $40 ice balls, yet that doesn’t make it a good idea. The question for Richardson is whether he’d make enough on stadium renovations to repay his costs; if not, he shouldn’t do it, but what the Deadspin revelations make clear is that he’s doing just fine, financially, in his 16-year-old stadium.

Now, would he do better elsewhere? The main reason the Panthers are so profitable, according to the Deadspin documents (nicely summarized here by, is the more than $100 million in TV revenue that the Panthers, like every other NFL team, rake in each year. So you could argue that the Panthers would be just as profitable in another city, and so are a legitimate threat to move. Though of course there are no other cities that currently have even teenaged stadiums to offer, so effectively Charlotte is bidding against itself — something that North Carolina elected officials seem to have realized, at least, even if city ones haven’t.

The Panthers, meanwhile, responded with a statement saying they only turned a $66.5 million profit over those two years, which is still a pretty hefty amount of money. And as Deadspin notes, official NFL bookkeeping gets to take into account the “infamous roster depreciation allowance”:

The RDA is an accounting gimmick whereby a new owner of a sports franchise gets to write off 100 percent of the purchase price of the team over a 15-year period, on the specious logic that a roster depreciates the same way, for instance, that your office’s new fax machine does. That tax deduction shows up on the books as an operating expense, even though it’s a pretend-loss that exists only in the quirks of the tax code. Thus, Stephen Ross, who purchased the Miami Dolphins for $1 billion, can claim an operational hit of nearly $70 million. “It has a huge impact on the bottom line,” [University of Oregon business professor Dennis] Howard says. “You’re able to transform a real profit into an operational loss.”

Maybe there’s a reason why Richardson’s excuses for asking for public funds have been limited to “because we can.”