January 8, 2002



written by
Lynn Trenning

























For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

aired on WFAE, January 11, 2002

My five year old and I bundled up in winter coats, rain ponchos and mittens for the last Panthers game of the season. We were two of the 21,070 fans, in a pitifully empty Ericsson Stadium, where we watched our team hobble toward the NFL record for most losses in a season. Amazingly, the game was sold out. Amazingly, there was hardly anyone there. More than 50,000 people just didn't come. Who are these people who can throw away $100 dollars worth of tickets just because of a little rain and a really bad football team?

What a lusterless event. More than the fans were missing. In the third quarter the concession stands were out of hot dogs, peanuts and pretzels. My kid happily settled for some rock hard M&Ms and a cold Coke, but gee whiz, no hot dogs? And it finally felt like a football day, with mist roiling past the stadium lights, dripping wet seats, and a temperature below 50 degrees. While Charlotte's Indian Summer of 2001 was pleasant, it's only considered football weather in Miami.

We sat near some Patriots fans, who were easier to find than Panthers Fans. A few home team boosters wore bags over their heads, and there were a couple of kids in the requisite black and blue face paint. But there was a relative abundance of red white and blue Patriot jackets, hats, and painted skulls. I used these hardcore out-of-towners as teaching examples for my nascent sports fan.

There were all sorts of excuses for the no shows. The game was meaningless for the Panthers. It was cold and rainy. It was time to take down the Christmas tree.

What we have is a rich city with a short attention span. When the Richardsons brought the Panthers to Charlotte, they financed the stadium by selling seat licenses. A multitude of these were bought by corporations to use for business entertainment, rather than by the Joe Six Packs, who are the most faithful fans of franchises in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Green Bay and Oakland. While this was perhaps the only realistic way to get the stadium financed, it leaves us with 50,000 empty seats. The difference between a sports fan and someone seeking trendy entertainment is this: losing is never acceptable as trendy entertainment. When a team is as bad as the Panthers have been, a game day ticket has no value to the uncommitted ticket holder.

It comes down to this. Charlotte is a lame sports town. Even at the beginning of the season, Ericsson Stadium is full of people who get to the game late, and leave early, often when the score is a field goal apart. The joke is that if you want to avoid postgame traffic, just stay until the end of the fourth quarter.

So we are left with a gorgeous stadium, and a smattering of football fans who enjoy the game in the blistering heat or the sloshy rain, regardless of how poorly their team is doing. These are the people who are in it for the adventure, the community, and because, win or lose, the Panthers are our team. Not to mention that I've never thrown $100 away even if it only gets me in the door of a stadium where you can't take off your shirt, you can't hold a sign encouraging the hire of a new coach, and you can't get a hot dog after half-time.

~ Lynn Trenning

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