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Many football fans in the Carolinas vividly remember October 23, 1993. On that date, the choice between the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons as the region's "home team" became unnecessary, as the Carolina Panthers were born via a vote of the NFL's owners. After a season in Clemson's Memorial Stadium, the team played its first game in its uptown Charlotte home on September 14, 1996.
The Panthers have made multiple postseason appearances during their time in the Queen City, including three NFC Championship Game appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl after the 2003 season. Though the team has fallen on harder times of late, they still employ one of the league's most dynamic stars in quarterback Cam Newton, a loyal -- if sometimes impatient -- fan base and an innovative staff who are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve the gameday experience.
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".
The suggestion that there is something available for every palate in a stadium has become a bit tired, but this is truly the case at Bank of America Stadium. There is a wonderful mixture of the expected stadium fare, national chains, regional favorites and standalone carts. The stadium offers well over 400 permanent stands and 100 portable stands, so no fan will ever go hungry at a Panther game. There is even a mini-market available in the 500 level of the stadium.
Kids love pizza, and Domino's ($8 for cheese or pepperoni) is available at fixed stands or from vendors walking through the seating bowl. Southern chicken standout Bojangles', Qdoba and regional favorite Krispy Kreme are among the other chains located around the concourses. If you want to add some stadium "classics" to your menu, there are such items as popcorn ($4 for a single order, $10 for souvenir bottomless popcorn), pretzels ($4), foot-long hot dogs or brats ($7) and supreme nachos ($9 for an order, including beef, cheese, salsa, sour cream and peppers).
There should also be some local fare in your diet, and if boiled peanuts aren't your thing, try JJR's BBQ Shack. Pulled pork and beef brisket sandwiches highlight the menu at JJR's, with your choice of tomato, vinegar or mustard-based sauces. Hush puppies, Brunswick stew, banana pudding and pecan tarts are also available at the five locations in the stadium. The Carolina Nacho Company is another option at which fans can scratch their itch for Carolina-based foods, and barbecue pork nachos and burritos ($9), chicken green chili nachos ($9) and Mason jar Fritos nachos ($7) highlight the options for a snack and meal in one bite.
Pepsi is the bottler for the stadium, and this is clearly evident at every stand and portable cooler around the concourses. Bottled water ($4), sodas ($4.50 for a 20-ounce bottle, $6 for a souvenir-sized cup and $7.50 for a jumbo), and draft beers ($7.50) will keep you cool on the warm early-season days. When the weather gets cold, coffee and hot chocolate ($4) will help take the bite off the fall and winter air. No fewer than seven local breweries also offer their products in Bank of America Stadium, with a craft beer court on the lower level of the stadium. The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, Foothills Brewing and Natty Greene's are among the many breweries serving blondes, hefeweizens, pale ales and porters.
One of the advantages of the location of Bank of America Stadium is its location in center-city Charlotte, and different portions of the stadium offer different views of the skyline. As with most stadiums, the view gets better the higher your seat. The true highlight of the skyline is the Duke Energy Center. The building is often lit in different colors to honor certain events in the Charlotte area, though this is obviously more visible for evening and night games. The Duke building is clearly visible from most of the seats in the stadium, bringing some of the outside into the seating bowl.
The Panthers' side of the stadium is in sections 126-137, 336-351 and 535-548. These seats are most easily accessed from the south gate off Morehead Street, though any gate will allow fans to enter onto the 100 level concourse. Seats on the 500 level provide the best view, but also require a lot of walking. A series of ramps provides access to this level, with steep steps to the seating areas on the concourse. If your seats are in the top of the level, this may require up to 100 steps. The view is spectacular, but you may want to limit your trips to the concession stands and restrooms.
The team has taken steps to improve the fan experience, and these additions are quite noticeable throughout the game. The Black and Blue Fan Patrol is in place to keep the crowd fired up during key moments in the game, shoot t-shirts into the seats and make things more lively during breaks in the action. The large video boards at either end of the seating bowl also show highlights of games in progress during stoppages in play and halftime, which helps connect fans to the other action going on around the league. Since most fans are likely checking the games on their phones, this lets everyone keep up with the big plays on a much larger screen.
The club is also offering halftime entertainment to keep fans from rushing to the concourses between the second and third quarters. The game I attended featured a showcase of the Panthers' drum line (Purrcussion) and the drum lines of North Carolina A&T and Clemson universities. Another fun past event involved a group of local and regional mascots participating in a football game on the Bank of America Stadium surface.
Unless your plan involves tailgating before -- or maybe even after -- the game, there is very little directly surrounding the stadium in which to partake. This should not affect your level of enjoyment, however. Your trip will just involve a little additional planning.
The Charlotte LYNX light rail system has a station just six blocks away on Stonewall Street. If you take the light rail just two stops further into uptown Charlotte to the 5th Street/CTC station, the EpiCentre can be found just off this stop, with dining choices of almost any type, bars, nightlife, a movie theater and a bowling alley within the same complex. The Time Warner Cable Arena and Blumenthal Performing Arts Center are also nearby, offering access to concerts and shows.
A number of additional restaurants are available within a brief walk of the light rail, both within uptown Charlotte and further south along the route. Rock Bottom Brewery is one of the preferred uptown destinations, but with Charlotte being a large city, there is never any shortage of places to go, things to see or meals to eat.
It has been mentioned that the Panthers have encountered some recent struggles, but this does not keep Panther fans from coming out, getting loud and supporting their team. The train ride and walk to the stadium features a number of fans in Panther gear, tailgating and getting fired up for the game. The stadium has enjoyed a long sellout streak, even in leaner times, which is a credit to those who come out to see games each week.
The fans get very loud for key moments, and clearly support their club through every great run and bad call. The atmosphere may not be deafening from the beginning of the game to the end, but there is no question that those in attendance love their home team. They are even nice to those wearing the visiting team's garb, which does not always take place at NFL games.
Bank of America's center-city location allows for reasonably easy access to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Fans flying to a game will be able to travel from the airport in west Charlotte to the stadium in approximately 15-20 minutes, depending on traffic. The facility is located at the corner of Mint (US Highway 29) and Morehead (NC Highway 27) Streets. Parking near the stadium is available at a number of surface lots, with prices ranging from $10-$30, depending on the proximity of the lot to the stadium. If you absolutely must drive, the experience could be worse, but it is so much easier to simply stick with mass transit and avoid much of the traffic.
The LYNX light rail station is just blocks away along Stonewall Street. There are a number of stations to the south of the stadium that offer free parking, making the trip much easier. Each station has a ticket kiosk that allows fans to purchase a single-day or round-trip pass, and the trains to uptown run every 10-15 minutes. The trains are often very crowded, but this option takes a lot of the hassle out of the gameday experience. There are even a number of restaurants and pubs along the line, if you want to keep the party going.
The gate entry process is extremely easy, especially considering the NFL's expanded bag and access rules. The staff is friendly and helpful, making things as painless as possible. The concourse and ramps can get a bit crowded, though, particularly at the end of a game. The amount of fans proceeding down the ramps can make things back up, so some patience is required for ingress and egress.
There are just shy of 100 restrooms around the facility, meaning that there are next to no lines at any point. The restrooms are clean and well-appointed, and there are plenty of family restrooms for those with small children.
Pricing for tickets at a Panther game starts at $39, plus fees. The NFL is hardly an inexpensive affair, so the ticket prices are no great surprise. If you were to buy a ticket (with fees), a personal pizza, a bottled soda and a train pass, this totals just under $60. Considering some colleges in the state can set you back further to see a game, it is hard to argue the value of a Panther game.
With that said, fans have the opportunity to go as inexpensively -- or as expensively -- as they wish. The team provides a link to the NFL's ticket exchange from its website, offering the opportunity to choose your own price.
There are likely not many NFL teams that offer their own drum line. Purrcussion, the Panther drum line, plays before games and during breaks. This gives the game a bit more of a collegiate feel, and is a nice touch.
The team provides free gameday programs to fans as they pass through the gates. The programs provide all of the important information fans will need to know. Considering the price most teams charge for programs, the price tag -- or lack thereof -- is much appreciated.
The club has a ring of honor inside the stadium that honors former club executive Mike McCormack, the first group of PSL holders and former star linebacker Sam Mills. Mills' battle with cancer inspired the team's catchphrase, Keep Pounding. The phrase can be found in many places throughout the stadium, and a statue of Mills is visible outside the gates to the stadium.
The stadium also offers a number of activities during the week and on game days. Fans can pay between $3-$5 and take a tour of the stadium during the week on scheduled dates. The day of the game features a kids combine and a number of other entertainment options.
The Panthers also offer one of the best radio teams in the league. Mick Mixon, former NFL star Eugene Robinson and Jim Szoke are fun and informational, and many fans who cannot make the game keep the television on mute while listening to the Panther radio network.
Finally, the team has a special section of seats on the 100 level for active duty military members. The seats are marked with the logos of various service branches. I saw a number of fans stop by and shake the hands of the servicemen on the day I attended, and this is a great way to honor those who serve the country.
Though many fans complain that the NFL is becoming less and less of a fan-friendly sport, the Panthers do a great job of remembering the reason they open the gates each Thursday, Sunday or Monday. With reasonable (considering the sport) pricing, a lively in-game atmosphere and a family-friendly environment, Bank of America Stadium is a great place to watch a game. The team's return to prominence will only make the experience that much better.
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 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.
The small footprint leaves few pre-game options in the immediate vicinity. Light rail works very well before and after the game and is not that far. Great fans who were loud for Cam's coming-out party against the Pats. Food was a bit disappointing.
120 North Cedar Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
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