Hoping to avoid the extra carbs, I passed on what looked a simple plate of Saltine crackers while waiting for Carolina Panthers President, Danny Morrison, to address the Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce’s FYI Friday luncheon. Local businessman, Joseph Wilson, Jr with Alinea Chemical Solutions, informed me that these weren’t just any Saltines, they were a Piedmont Club tradition. Our table conversation focused surprisingly more on the upcoming high school football season and the heated rivalries between Byrnes, Dorman, Gaffney, and Spartanburg than the $2.56 billion invested in the area since 2014. Sure they were probably pleased about the 4000 jobs it helped to create, but what they raved about was the Star Center, Upward Sports' state of the art facility, and Tyger River Park, where a 104 team fast-pitch softball tournament was being held that day.
President Morrison’s remarks that afternoon emphasized the importance of Spartanburg and Wofford College to the Carolina Panthers. It’s a relationship that began 30 years ago, he stated, “with a confidential note” from Jerry Richardson articulating his desire to bring NFL training camp to South Carolina. Wofford, Richardson believed, could be that place. Led by Woody Willard, Wofford quickly began acquiring the necessary property to outfit the facilities needed by a new NFL franchise. At a frenzied pace much like the creation of the Panthers themselves, Wofford met Richardson’s expectations, cementing a partnership deeper than the nostalgia of a former alum, but an important economic driver of the region and a staple of team tradition.
After Morrison updated the Chamber on the team and the stadium renovations, he discussed Carolina’s continued growth as an organization, its fanbase, and the importance of training camp in the fan experience. In the last five years alone, training camp attendance has doubled, and in the first 10 days this year, estimates suggest that last year’s attendance of 49,029 has already been exceeded. Morrison noted that this rapid growth created a strong desire to enhance the training camp experience in what he described as a “Masters like look.” Partnering with Lowes, the Panthers and Wofford college focused on aesthetic upgrades. It’s pleasantly noticeable and has created an inviting fan experience, one that has clearly be enjoyed by a record number of fans already.
Later that day as I waited for camp to open, I was hanging out at R.J. Rockers, a local born Spartanburg business thriving in the craft beer boom. With a Rockerhopper IPA in hand, I stumbled across a brewing vat named Tony (yea, they name the vats). As I wondered what beer was being brewed in a vat with my namesake, I couldn’t help but see, much like those warmed, buttered Saltines, that Spartanburg is special. Outside of Panthers training camp, it’s an inviting place that I’d recommend anyone to visit. The off chance of running into a player or coach only makes it a really special place for Panthers fans.
By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn
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