The National Football League lookout is now in day 91, as team owners and players try to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. As the work stoppage continues, training camps are threatened, including the Carolina Panthers camp at Wofford College, and that could punch a significant hole in Spartanburg’s economy.
The camp, which usually begins in late July and ends in mid-August, draws thousands of fans who want to get a glimpse of players gearing up for the season. Chris Jennings, director for the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the annual training camp gives the hospitality industry in Spartanburg a significant boost each year.
Jennings says if the lockout ends in time for the camp to open on time, he anticipates an increase in visitors as fans flock to see the overall NFL number one draft choice quarterback Cam Newton, who led Auburn University to this year’s national championship.
The Panthers have trained at Wofford College since the team came into the league as an expansion franchise in 1995. Team officials say they like Spartanburg because it’s a relatively quiet area in which to train and it’s only 75 miles from the team’s home base in Charlotte. It also doesn’t hurt that the team’s owner Jerry Richardson played at Wofford.
Jennings says when the Panthers come to Spartanburg they bring excitement for the fans and they in turn bring their money.
In January, the Panthers front office announced that it had renewed its contract to keep its training camp at Wofford for five years with an option for more. Jennings says what is invaluable is the free exposure the city receives during the Panthers’ pre-season training period. Wofford has not given the Panthers a deadline for notifying them if they will be coming to the school this year. Both sides agree if a new labor deal is not hammered out before August, the team is better off holding training camp at their home base in Charlotte.