In an interview with Forbes magazine, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said he is not completely ruling out moving the team to Los Angeles. The amazing revelation came as the interview focused on the issues unique to running a successful sports franchise.
In Matt Marrone's first interview working for Forbes after being hired away from ESPNNewYork.com late last month, Marrone had caught up with several NFL owners after the Combine hoopla and NFL owners meetings had time to wind down. Here's how the particular sequence went, after they finished up talking about some of the finer points of how restructuring contracts and the salary cap's double-digit (in the millions) increases in recent years:
Marrone: How do you manage it? I mean, we've established that player salaries alone run 70 to 75% of total team liabilities?
Richardson: [smiles] Well, it isn't easy of course. A lot of NFL teams actually struggle to make a profit and half of the ones that do, they do it....how to put this? It just seems like the best AND the worst teams are the profitable ones. The teams that are bad year-in and year-out without naming names are the ones that don't spend a lot on their players and have a lot more subdued total team payroll than most. The thing most people don't realize is that a lot of the revenue structure is evened-out through the NFL's revenue sharing program. The best teams are profitable through increased merchandising and consistently selling out their seats. We want to be like the former, and I feel we're well on our way.
Marrone: I understand. The second-highest as far as costs to NFL teams go is stadium costs like property taxes, maintenance, and stadium amenities. Bank of America Stadium is currently ranked #22 of only 31 NFL stadiums, since the Giants and Jets share a home. What are your plans to upgrade it over the next few years?
Richardson: Like all teams, it takes us a couple of years, minimum, to go from concept to implementation. We're currently adding over a hundred more wireless access points at strategic spots around the stadium, but that's a minor undertaking. We also don't have the luxury of hanging a forty yard-wide Jumbotron from a roof, like one team in particular recently did [laughs]. But we have had a few things in the works for a while now and hope to announce them as the contracts actually get signed with the vendors.
Marrone: So you're committed to staying put in Charlotte, and have no plans to build a new stadium after all?
Richardson: Oh, we're definitely not building a new stadium although that would always be nice. Political winds recently have been blowing against public/private partnerships that are behind most of these stadium deals, so that sort of thing has been put on the back burner for now. I don't think most people realize how much revenue a more modern stadium with 21st-century amenities integrated into the blueprints would bring in. In most cases, revenues more than double and that's good for the franchise, their stadium vendors, as well as taxpayers because of the jump in tax revenues.
Marrone: Sounds like you would really love some new digs.
Richardson: Shoot, probably three-quarters of the owners would if you were to take a poll -
Marrone: For now, I'm just polling you. I'll get to Jerry Jones later.
Richardson: [laughs loudly] Yeah, he's really hurting.
Marrone: So you're going to stay put in Charlotte for the future?
Richardson: [pauses] I can't tell you that. I've lived in the Carolinas all my life and want to stay here, but Los Angeles really wants an NFL franchise pretty badly. In fact, I can tell you now that I have, in fact, had several informal conversations with (L.A. Mayor) Mr. (Eric) Marcetti since the end of the 2014 season, and he has seemed more and more interested in having us move out there, and -
Marrone: Wait...you've been in talks with him about moving? Seriously?
Richardson: [nods] Well, yes. It's really not a huge secret if you know whom to ask. It isn't something I came into this season considering but with the figures he has been throwing out there, I mean, you know WOW-type figures. At this point, I won't rule out anything.
Marrone: Is this for real or "just" informal talks?
Richardson: Since you put it that way, I have to admit we've been crunching some numbers and - well, Mayor Marcetti and the Panthers both have - and it does look more and more attractive the more we talk. Even if we had an agreement tomorrow, it would take at least three years now before the move could be made.
Marrone: I can't believe what I'm hearing. I had no idea you were so far along in this. All the NFL reporters and even a few MLB folks I know have heard about the rumors, but then again these things normally are just those - rumors.
Richardson: [nods] Yes, this is the time of year you hear all sorts of things. I can't say the chances of us moving out west are exactly HIGH right now, but three months ago the chances were zero.
Marrone: And now?
Richardson: [shrugs] It's just talk more than anything.
Marrone: What number would you put on the chances, percentage-wise?
Richardson: Ah, I can't say because I really don't know. There are lots of considerations, first being our fans. Let's just say if talks keep heading the way they have been so far, there is a real chance of it happening down the road. Not a huge chance, but I like what I have been hearing.
Richardson: Nothing is set in stone so I have no real specifics for you on that. However, they ARE offering very favorable tax treatment as well as a twenty-year subsidy on certain things, which is twice as long as the usual ten-year deals most people read about in the news whenever such things do happen.
Marrone: I'm shocked, frankly. Is there anything you can add?
Richardson: Of course! Ken Dye says to tell you "APRIL FOOLS!!"
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