In 2010 and 2011, as the NFL prepared for and staged a lockout of its players, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was among the hardest of the hardliners, urging his fellow owners to "take back our league" by demanding a more management-friendly collective-bargaining agreement.
Meanwhile, according to an audited financial statement obtained by Deadspin, Richardson's Panthers were making more than $100 million in profit over the fiscal years covering those two seasons.
The statement is for the years ending March 31, 2011, and March 31, 2012. Over the first period, as Richardson argued that the NFL's business model was hopelessly broken and steered the owners toward a showdown to extract more money from the players, the Panthers recorded an operating profit of $78.7 million. The team had gone 2-14 on the field, but Richardson and his partners were able to pay themselves $12 million.
Over the following year, after the owners had won their lockout and reduced the players' share of league revenue from 50 percent to 47 percent, the Panthers brought in $33.3 million in operating profit. Richardson began lobbying for public subsidies to renovate his 17-year-old stadium. The team went 6-10.
The pro football business was very good in Carolina in those two years, even if the pro football wasn't. That much is evident from the document, which can be found at the bottom of the post and which offers a rare look inside an NFL club's books.
Team financials in all sports are closely guarded documents, particularly because so much league business—stadium deals with municipalities, negotiations with players unions—relies on obscuring the owners' financial picture. During collective bargaining in 2011, the NFL players union repeatedly asked owners to open their books. They were repeatedly denied.
So in the year before and after the lockout, the Panthers made $110 million for a team that went a dismal 8-24 over two years, but Charlotte taxpayers need to fork over $200 million for stadium renovations?
Ah, but new GOP Gov. (and former Charlotte Mayor) Pat McCrory is quite offended by that, and he's not giving in to Richardson's extortion. I'm pretty sure the Deadspin article has killed the Bank of America Stadium renovation deal for good, and that means the Panthers may not be in Carolina much longer.
The proposal called for the state and the City of Charlotte to give the Carolina Panthers about $200 million in public money to upgrade Bank of America Stadium. In exchange the Panthers were going to stay in the Queen City for 15 years.
But the Governor is refusing to fork over taxpayers' money, and lawmakers won't approve a 1% increase of the prepared foods tax.
"My fear is the Panthers stay in Charlotte is on life support" says Charlotte city council member Andy Dulin.
Charlotte already lost the NBA's Hornets to New Orleans a decade ago when owner George Shinn pulled the same stunt. BET network CEO Bob Johnson stepped in with the Carolina Bobcats (and with New Orleans taking the Pelicans for their franchise name next season, there's a push to rename the Bobcats back to the Hornets.) Johnson's had mixed success, but he hasn't tried to pull any of the same crap either.
But Richardson it seems is either going to get his money, or going to go to a city who will bankrupt their coffers to bring the Panthers there. Where would they go? Vegas? Portland? Maybe the first Canadian NFL team? I'd certainly miss them, but not if Richardson is going to lie about having hundreds of millions in his pocket and plead poverty.
That cat don't hunt.