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It's difficult to imagine it was just seventeen years ago when Charlotte was awarded an expansion franchise. The team has had mixed results over the years and reaching the Super Bowl in 2003 remains the proudest moment for the Carolina Panthers organization.
The franchise has done an exceptional job tying in the moniker and color palette with everything they do. Their branding is effective and you can see why the team enjoys successful profitability off the field.
The drum corps (Purrcusion), team dancers (Topcats), mascot (Sir Purr), luxury pre-game areas and stadium (blanketed in "panther" blue seats) all have been cleverly named to advance this agenda and because of these efforts, you will be highly fulfilled after spending an afternoon at Bank of America Stadium watching pro football.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Wow, where should I start? Bank of America Stadium exceeds the "Yum-O" meter in many ways. When attending a game at a different stadium, I like to begin with what is unique and a trip to JJR BBQ fills this category nicely.
The menu is dressed with all of the things you would expect in the South. Be sure you get an extra plate to put all three types of BBQ sauce and try each of them. Although I like vinegar-based sauces, there was mustard-based and tomato-based. I had trouble determining which one I liked most.
If you asked me what to order, I would tell you to get the pulled pork with a side of banana pudding for $3 and wash it down with sweet tea for $5. Several JJR locations can be found on multiple concourse levels with the largest one near section 110. Bring some boiled peanuts with you to your seat, just $3.50 for a generous helping.
There are also many areas to enjoy beer from local breweries, Carolina Blonde being one of my favorites. If you like to choose food and beverages from the regular offerings you find anywhere, then nachos with cheese, hot dogs, sodas and premium ice cream are available.
One thing I found to be a pleasant surprise were the amount of portable tables throughout the concourse where fans could bring their recently purchased food and enjoy it instead of having to go to their seats, balance their drink on their knee while reaching for food. More teams should do this.
A pair of ferocious panthers guard each entrance to the south, east and north. Mounted on large blocks of stone detailing the names of original PSL owners, they watch over the team's faithful upon entry and serve as a reminder of the characteristics the team represents.
Open air stadiums with views of the city skyline are some of the best and Bank of America Stadium is on this list. You can feel the energy building four hours before the game and there are several integrated elements that ensure things come together before kick-off.
Of the many things Bank of America Stadium offers in an experience, tailgating and restaurants around the stadium are not among them. Sure, there are plenty of small parking lots and plenty of good eating, but you will have to bring your own food. The downtown area offers nothing in the way of good spots to enjoy.
The Panthers make the plot of land and some of the area surrounding it a football zip code on game day. A nicely landscaped walkway rings nearly the entire stadium providing access to several areas where fans can seek fulfillment. The area just to the west is bordered by a rail line and offers no reasonable access.
Corporate hospitality tents are found on the south lawn across from the ticket office. These areas are restricted to select ticket holders. Beyond a ridge to the south of this area there is access to some small lots.
On my walk to the stadium and then around it, I encountered six street preachers. Complete with milk crate to stand on and a bible in hand, you could hear them from a block away in most cases. One even brought his son with him, complete with Panthers jersey. I think the little boy had more interest in the game than his father's message of the day.
So while there are a few things worth enjoying just outside the stadium, I wouldn't devote a lot of time here.
Even with a struggling team, Panthers fans came in full force extending their sell-out streak to 91 games during my visit. Many are decked out in the radiant blue colors which add to the branding of a beautiful stadium and worthwhile experience.
Under first year head coach Ron Rivera and rookie quarterback Cam Newton, the team is in a state of transition and fans accept this. At the end of the day, they just want to enjoy a team that competes and plays hard. Even though on this day the team fell far short of reaching this level during a 30-3 loss, fans still cheered fervently supporting their developing team.
Upon each Carolina first down, a panther-like growl is heard over the speakers supported by a mimicking crowd enjoying the advance of the ball.
One thing I found interesting were the people to my right were talking about college football all game while the people to my left were talking about their ex-husbands. A high school or college-aged girl to my left had her homework and was highlighting things presumably for study.
Maybe I just had seats near some interesting people and that this is not indicative of most fans of the Carolina Panthers.
Several small parking lots exist to the east. The highest price for parking in this area was $30 per car. It also seemed that some of the more fervent, longest-serving ticket holders occupy this lot on game day. Further east and as far as six blocks this direction until reaching the light rail station are small lots each with a lower price than the next and going as low as $20.
On the north edge of the stadium were a few more private luxury areas complete with a jazz band which was nice, but a little out of place for a football game. A little further away and on the opposite side of the north entrance, a common area for the majority of fans wanting to enjoy live rock music, corporate giveaways and gathering before entering the stadium.
Across the street and to the north of this area is a large parking garage of six levels. Parking here was $30. Continuing further north of this area are smaller lots. It seemed upon exiting the game, the majority of the fans were walking this direction to their cars.
There is plenty of parking around the stadium, but just know it will be in a small lot. The parking garage to the north of the stadium features six levels and nearby access. On many of the lots, portable restrooms are available in the form of the one-person at a time variety. The stadium is full of them and even with nearly 80,000 fans, there was rarely a wait to get in except at halftime.
The best access type I can give you is a balance of convenience and money savings. I took Charlotte's light rail to the game and it was my best move of the day. The line, known as Lynx, runs from Uptown, to the south.
I parked at the Scaleybark station which was the station closest to the stadium that provided free parking. For $3.50 round trip, I got on the train, travelled five stops and exited the train at the Stonewall station. The trip took fifteen minutes and left me just a short six blocks east of the stadium. No traffic, no hassle and I saved quite a bit of money.
Inside the stadium, the 100 level concourse is exceptionally wide allowing for ease in traffic and for busy vending areas with lines not obstructing the travelling fans moving throughout the stadium.
Although there are several elevators reserved for guest with disabilities, travel to your seats in the upper level is gained through a series of lengthy ramps along the north and south sides of the stadium. The pitch is not too great, but the walk is long. Allow enough time so as to not miss kick-off.
I like to view all games from a certain perspective and I apply my pricing threshold given this perspective.
My criteria includes sitting in the upper levels so I can watch the plays develop, sitting on the sideline side of the field so I can clearly see the advancement of the ball, achievement of reaching a first down and movement of the chains. Also, and this is very important at least for afternoon games, having the sun at my back so I can see the field visual impairment.
If you like this perspective, choose a seat at the 500 level between sections 539 and 544. This is between the 20-yard lines. The pitch in the rows allows for a relatively steep incline and satisfying sightlines. I paid $60 for my ticket and the face value was $45. The highest row in these sections is 38. As an added bonus, you gain a magnificent view of the Charlotte skyline at this level when sitting in section 544, where I sat during my visit.
If you want to sit a little lower and are willing to pay a little high price, choose the 100 level between sections 129 and 134. The pitch of the seats is less steep than those in the 500 level. And the ticket prices a little higher.
The 200 level is exclusively behind the end zones, the 300 include suites and club seats and the 400 level includes suites and the press box.
As far as the position of the sun, it is not directly behind you, but for a 1:00 PM start, the sun is out of play and back behind you, but to the right. For perfection, maybe sit a little east of where I sat which would be in section 539 or 540.
Sitting on this sideline, the home team enters the field running toward you out of the tunnel in the northwest corner. The Panthers bench is closest to you and you face the visiting team's bench. The team logos are also in correct full view as opposed to upside down as viewed from the North sideline.
The replay boards and scoreboards are on the upper edge of each end zone. A narrower row of electronic messaging rings the entire middle level of the stadium as well. My impression was good on the flow of information except for the struggle to have out-of-town scores displayed more frequently. Statistics on the game Panthers games were regularly updated and shown constantly.
The stadium was ranked by the NFL as being the most fan-friendly, a distinction which measures the number of fan conduct issues and the accessibility of guest relations staff to ensure fans enjoy a satisfying experience at Bank of America Stadium.
Just inside each entrance a guest relations station exists with at least two personnel there to answer any and all questions. I tested them several times during the day and they passed each time.
When I charged my smartphone after finding an outlet in the seating area near the aisle, I was told to remove it. When I asked why, a less-than-fan-friendly explanation was given. It just struck me odd the answer would be, "because I said so". I am over it now.
The game programs are free and are the smaller, hand-held design, becoming more popular these days at games. It is loaded with all of the updated and necessary information. Additionally, it is game-specific and dated on the front cover. Officials are on hand to distribute them as you walk in.
Just inside each entrance, the team's schedule is posted high above with the details of which of the three uniforms the team is wearing each game. It is a nice way to merchandise team merchandise which is well-distributed throughout the stadium and includes custom jerseys.
Speaking of merchandise, it is sold throughout the stadium with some of the premium merchandise found at the one team store near section 117. On this day, the immense crowd made the scene chaotic and the store difficult to walk through after the game. It was far too small to accommodate 75,000 people. There are also smaller merchandise outlets available throughout the stadium and known as "4th & Goal" locations.
There is a kids area branded Sir Purr's Play Den near section 138 providing a setting for little fans to kick field goals, pose for photos, throw balls and sit to consume food and drinks alongside.
At the upper 500 level on the south side of the stadium, there is a display honoring high school football throughout the state of North Carolina. Nearly every high school is represented with a full size helmet stacked in a display that is designed in the outline of the state of North Carolina. It is worth the trip upstairs if you do not have tickets there.
Lastly, despite a short history, the team found time to honor on their "Ring of Honor" Mike McCormack and Sam Mills. Mike McCormack was an early General Manager for the team while Sam Mills was a longtime player and coach who lost a battle with cancer in April 2005.
The Panthers moved into Bank of America Stadium in 1996 after playing their inaugural season at Clemson University Memorial Stadium. Bank of America Stadium is located in the heart of Uptown Charlotte.
This stadium is a great benchmark for the newer stadiums in the NFL. It's heavily guarded by six ferocious bronze Panther statues; below the statues are the names of the PSL owners that helped bring the team to life. Outside of the stadium you can find two more statues worth checking out: One of Mike McCormack, and one of linebacker Sam Mills. These two men have been inducted into the Panthers Hall of Honor.
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