Panthers somewhat put rumors to rest

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson said Sunday afternoon he’s devoted to keeping the team in the Carolinas.

Richardson, who is the only owner the franchise has known in its 18 years of existence, was responding to rumors that surfaced earlier in the week that an offer from a group in Los Angeles was made to purchase the club and move it to the west coast.

“It has always been my desire that the Carolinas would be home to our Panthers,” Richardson said in a statement that was released during the team’s 36-14 home loss to the Denver Broncos. “Nothing has changed. As someone who was born in North Carolina and lived much of my life in South Carolina, I hope that there would be no doubts about my personal devotion to the Carolinas.”

According to several reports, Richardson met with officials from Los Angeles during the Democratic National Convention, which was in Charlotte in early September. L.A. officials were intrigued that the Panthers are one of four franchises — including the Patriots, Dolphins and Redskins — that own their own stadiums and wouldn’t have to worry about breaking a lease if they were to move.

The franchise has developed a strong fan base, as evidenced by Sunday’s 100th consecutive sellout. But frustration has escalated among some fans regarding personal seat licensing, that seat owners must also purchase season tickets in addition to the seat licenses, and that Richardson just doesn’t communicate with them. He’s involved in what the franchise does, but is regarded by many as uninterested in what the fans have to say, especially criticisms that he’s too tight with money.

Some fans also are concerned that if Charlotte doesn’t help the team with stadium renovations, Richardson — who is 76 and recently had a heart transplant — would consider moving the team to L.A.

Taylor Zarzour, host of a drive time sports radio show on AM 610 The Fan in Charlotte, says fans have been chiming in on the topic all week, and most don’t foresee the team moving. But Zarzour noted the relationship between Richardson and the fans could improve.

“Many of our listeners seemed to think it’s far-fetched to believe that the Panthers would ever leave town when you have struggling markets like Jacksonville, and the stadium issues in St. Louis, Oakland, and San Diego,” Zarzour said.

“But there is certainly an issue of trust with this town and Jerry Richardson. Many fans feel like Richardson beats to his on drum and doesn’t monitor the pulse of the community, so there’s always going to be a little sliver of doubt.”

The Panthers were born in 1993 when the NFL awarded the growing city of Charlotte, NC, a franchise and played their first game in 1995. The Panthers have had just four winning seasons, but have played in two NFC championship games and reached the Super Bowl in 2004. The team has finished .500 three times, as well.

Following the game, the players weren’t aware of Richardson’s statement. So there’s no way to gauge how they feel about the rumors, although veteran offensive tackle Jordan Gross, who is in his 10th season with the team, dismissed any notion the rumors even matter right now.

“I can’t comment on any rumors,” he said. “We’ve got enough stuff in this locker room to worry about anything else.”

True. The Panthers dropped to 2-7 after Sunday’s defeat.