Panthers Owner Searching For Stadium Funding As Sports Betting Looms

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper spent the last few years lobbying local government for help funding upgrades to his team’s home field, Bank of America Stadium.

Thus far, he has been unsuccessful. Furthermore, time is running out before the launch of the Tar Heel State’s online sports betting industry, which will require upgrades to the stadium.

The 65-year-old hedge fund manager worth $18.5 billion bought the franchise in July 2018. However, Bank of America Stadium was built nearly three decades ago, making it one of the oldest stadiums in the NFL.

Shortly after his purchase, Tepper started floating the idea of a new stadium for his franchise. However, he began shifting his focus to a comprehensive stadium overhaul in recent years.

Bank of America Stadium retail sportsbook is on the way

Gov. Roy Cooper legalized North Carolina sports betting in June when he signed House Bill 347. The legislation included language that allows retail sportsbooks at professional sports venues.

As a result, there will almost certainly be a Bank of America Stadium retail sportsbook. Here are the other locations eligible for a license:

  • PNC Arena in Raleigh (home to the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes)
  • Spectrum Center in Charlotte (home to the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets)
  • Charlotte Motor Speedway
  • North Wilkesboro Speedway
  • WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary (home to multiple professional soccer franchises)
  • Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte (home to PGA Tour events)
  • Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro (home to PGA Tour events)

Sports betting doesn’t make it any more or less likely Tepper can obtain help from local governments. However, he can generate a new revenue stream with a sports betting partnership with one of the major online operators.

For example, Bet365 became the exclusive sports betting partner of MLB’s Cleveland Guardians. These partnerships typically involve an advertising deal that could put a dent in the $600 million Tepper is trying to raise.

Operators won’t start accepting wagers until at least January 2024. In other words, odds are slim Panthers fans see a retail sportsbook at home games this season.

Tepper also owns Charlotte FC, the newest franchise in Major League Soccer, and The Crown also plays its home games at Bank of America Stadium. Depending on the launch date, the stadium’s sportsbook could be eligible to accept wagers by the start of the 2024 MLS season.

County and state don’t want to help fund Tepper’s improvements

According to reports, Tepper spoke with the Charlotte City Council in February about a possible $1.2 billion deal. The arrangement would provide Tepper $600 million worth of taxpayer funds, with the other half coming out of his pocket.

No agreement has been reached yet. Aside from a proposed new practice facility, few details of the plan were made public.

Currently, the city has a 1% tax on prepared food and beverages and a 2% tax on hotels and motels. These are explicitly to subsidize the city’s tourism industry.

These taxes are scheduled to expire in about a decade. But Rep. John Bradford, R–Mecklenburg, filed legislation that would extend them until 2060.

By extending the taxes, Bradford gives the city some leeway to help fund Tepper’s renovations.  At this point, these extensions seem like Tepper’s best bet for public funding.

State and county-level officials aren’t keen on handing Tepper taxpayer money, partly because of these taxes.

“I have had a conversation with David Tepper in the past, that the county would not participate in any financial support for stadium upgrades because of what you said – that the city has a specific tax that’s dedicated to that purpose and the county does not have that,” said Mecklenberg County Manager Dena Diorio during a county meeting.

On the other hand, Tepper indicated that these upgrades won’t happen without government help. When he was focused on an entirely new stadium, Tepper told WCNC-Charlotte he wouldn’t shoulder the entire cost.

“I said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’m not building a stadium alone,” Tepper said. “The community’s going to have to want it.”

Tepper came out of pocket for the stadium’s most recent upgrades

Just before Charlotte FC’s first season, Tepper privately funded $50 million worth of upgrades to the stadium. He replaced the Bermuda grass with turf, built new locker rooms, added new camera positions, a tunnel entrance, a 200-foot curved video screen over the east gate and upgraded the lower concourse area.

The current design lacks open concourses, which would allow fans to see the game from bars and other group areas. Tepper envisions Banks of America Stadium as a multipurpose arena that can hold concerts, conventions and NCAA March Madness games.

He said the next renovations could give the stadium another few decades of use.

Future renovations would create entertainment district near the stadium

When owners don’t get their way with local governments, they usually threaten to take the team elsewhere. For instance, most Oakland sports franchises are moving to Las Vegas for newer facilities.

But Tepper recently bought 4.6 acres of land just a couple blocks from his current home field. He hopes to create an entertainment district between the stadium and the city’s upcoming Gateway Station.

The purchase makes it appear that relocation isn’t a likely outcome, regardless of any potential deals. Instead, it tips the scales toward Tepper funding the entire operation if government subsidies fall through.

 

Image Credit: Nell Redmond / AP

About the Author

Steven Schult

Steve Schult is a veteran of the gambling industry with more than a decade of experience covering the space. After earning a degree in journalism from Marist College, the New York native began covering high-stakes poker tournaments for some of the game’s most prominent publications. Following stints with Card Player Media, Bluff Magazine and the World Series of Poker, Schult joined Catena Media and has covered regional gambling news for several states.