Any time a new boss takes over, change happens.
And change is expected among the Carolina Panthers now that new owner David Tepper is in control. But community leaders hope one of those changes isn’t the team’s training camp location.
“We’re really working hard with Wofford, the city and the county to make sure that Mr. David Tepper, the new owner who was here last week, knows what Spartanburg means to the Panthers and hopefully that relationship continues,” Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Vice President Chris Jennings said.
The Panthers have held their preseason training camps at Wofford College ever since their inaugural 1995 season. Previous owner Jerry Richardson arranged for the camp to occur at his alma mater in Spartanburg. But the 82-year-old Richardson sold the team in May, months after reports emerged that the team had paid settlements to several former employees who claimed he sexually harassed them and used a racial slur on at least one occasion.
“It’s been a great 24 years. We’re not ready to let that go yet,” Jennings said. “We like to show our fans and the team the love. I think it’s a love affair between the two of them. This is the time. . .where the community gets to show some love, too. We hope that Mr. Tepper takes that to heart and understands that it’s more than just Spartanburg. It’s really a South Carolina-two states/one team connection here.”
Jennings said he saw the fan enthusiasm with his own eyes as he came across Head Coach Ron Rivera near the Marriott Hotel downtown after practice Monday.
“A fan jumps out and wants to get his picture taken . . . that made that young man’s day that he got a picture with Coach Rivera. We’re hoping that continues.”
Training camp started Thursday with a kickoff party at Gibbs Stadium.
In the last two years, more than 100,000 Panthers fans attended training camp each year. As many as 135,000 fans attended several years ago.
“We’ll be hard-pressed to break that this year but we’re hopeful that we can get to 100,000 again,” Jennings said. “This is a big part of what we do here in Spartanburg. It’s about $13 million when Panthers camp is here when you have more than 100,000 people. So our industry from hotels and restaurants and retail love having the Panthers here. They really put out the welcome mat and we’re hoping it continues.”