FYI Friday: Two States. One Team.

Carolina Panthers, Spartanburg tied together since team's inception

Tuesday, July 10, 2018 12:15 pm

by Zach Fox

Two states. One team.

Since the team’s inception, the Carolina Panthers – in name and fanbase – have been the team of North and South Carolina. Although the team is based in Charlotte, the Panthers make a summertime trek to Spartanburg each year for training camp at Wofford College. Over the years, the Panthers have built arguably the strongest fan base any NFL team can boast outside of its home city.

Each year, thousands turn out to get a glimpse of Panthers stars like Cam Newton, Greg Olsen and Christian McCaffrey as they start prep for the upcoming season. Attendance, and the economic impact from Panthers Camp, has skyrocketed over the last few years, as has the relationship between the team and Spartanburg.

“I sort of feel like Spartanburg is my second home,” said Riley Fields, Panthers director of community relations. “The last three years are more than the previous nine combined, plus 30,000 fans, so the growth of camp has really been exceptional. We’re just in a whole different stratosphere.”

Fields was the featured speaker at the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s FYI Friday event on June 29.

Panthers Camp this year opens on July 26, starting with the Panthers Camp Kickoff Party and the team’s first practice later that night. The day will kick off several weeks of practices the Panthers will hold at Wofford College.

“When you talk about being in Spartanburg, it’s unique because the trend is not being off-site. It gives the team the chance to get together. They’re just there, around the clock, with each other. It gives them the chance to bond and share time together,” Fields said. “It’s also that personal interaction with the fans that, there’s just not an apples-to-apples scale we can compare it to. When you come off the field, there are thousands of people there, cheering for you, wanting your autograph. You can feel the love of the fans, and it’s an opportunity for them to give it right back.”

Last year’s Panthers Camp had an economic impact of $13.2 million on Spartanburg County, setting yet another record for the job supported and money generated by the annual event. The event’s annual economic impact has jumped from $5.2 million in 2014.

More than 310,000 people have visited Spartanburg over the last three years to get a preseason glimpse at the Panthers.

“The attendance history trajectory is very strong,” said Allen Smith, president and CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce. “They’re not North Carolina’s team, they’re not South Carolina’s team, they’re Carolinas’ team.”

The Panthers’ commitment to Spartanburg will get even stronger the day before camp opens.

Along the Mary Black Rail Trail, a ribbon cutting will be held for the Panthers Play 60 obstacle course at The Rail Yard park. The park, modeled after a similar one in Charlotte, is the first of its kind in South Carolina.

“I hesitate calling it a playground,” Fields said. “It’s like American Ninja Warrior meets the NFL Combine.”

That commitment – being involved in an effort to better the quality of place in Spartanburg – shows how the close the relationship between the team and the community has become over the last 20-plus years, Smith said.

“Their commitment to training camp in Spartanburg demonstrates that. The other thing we hear a lot of times from a lot of people in and around Spartanburg and the region, is that for some people, Panthers Training Camp in Spartanburg is the only time they can really afford to take in the NFL experience,” he said. “We strongly hope the Carolina Panthers remain committed to Spartanburg and committed to the idea that this is Carolinas’ team.”

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