The Big Cat Getting Started

I have been holding on to this for a slow news day like today. This is a research paper that I wrote for one of my college English classes about Jerry Richardson. It shows how he got started and what the process of creating the team was like. It could be a nice lesson for newer Panthers fans that don't know a lot about our history, or anyone who would like to revisit the creating of the best team ever.

The Carolina Panthers are the most successful expansion team in the history of the National Football League. After finishing their first year with a respectable record of 7-9, they followed it up in their second season by going 12-4 and advancing all the way to the National Football Conference championship game. The success of this very accomplished franchise is primarily due to one man. This man had a dream to bring professional football to the Carolinas and bring greatness along with it. This man’s name is Jerry Richardson, founder and owner of the Carolina Panthers football franchise. Richardson followed what many believe to have been a pipe dream. He was as serious as he was confident stating, "We didn’t get into this for funsies. Our goal is to put together an organization and coaching staff so that one day we’re going to be standing here in this same area celebrating our first Super Bowl" (Menzer 11). Through his savvy business skills, Richardson has established a strong relationship between the Carolinas and the NFL.

Richardson, born on July 18th, 1936, in Spring Hope, North Carolina, has been incased in athletics ever since growing up in Fayetteville, a football town. After a successful stay at Wofford College, he was drafted by the NFL Baltimore Colts. Surpassing expectations, he made the team and even caught the game winning touchdown in the 1959 NFL Championship game (Jerry Richardson). After two seasons, Richardson retired to pursue a better business opportunity. He invested his $4,744.00 NFL Championship bonus check to open up the first Hardee’s restaurant with his friend and former teammate Charlie Bradshaw. Their company later grew into Flagstar which owns 1,500 Denny’s, 600 Hardee’s, 211 Quincy’s, and 210 El Pollo Loco restaurants, and employs over 100,000 people (Menzer 12).

Jerry Richardson had never even dreamt of owning a professional football franchise for most of his life. One evening, while driving down I-85, he heard on the radio that Charlotte was awarded an NBA franchise. He was surprised that not only did Charlotte get a franchise, but they were the first city selected for an expansion team. Being so excited about profession sports coming to the Carolinas, Richardson bought season tickets for the Charlotte Hornets immediately. After seeing the Carolinas earn a basketball team, he thought, "Why not a football team, too?" (Menzer 12). From that moment on, Jerry Richardson was determined to bring a professional football team to North and South Carolina.

Richardson knew that creating an NFL franchise would be no small task, and he enlisted help before getting started. He began by hiring Max Muhleman, the man most credited for bringing the Hornet to Charlotte, as his marketing consultant (Menzer 13). Richardson also sought help from within his family. He hired his sons Mark and Jon Richardson to help with his plans. Mark, who had just graduated with a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Virginia, was designated with handling day to day operations. Jon was in charge of the creation of a new stadium. They worked together as a family with Mark working on the business side, Jon being responsible for the stadium, and Jerry dealing with league affairs (Menzer 12).

Many were skeptical of the outcome of the project, but Jerry Richardson never lost his confidence. Muhleman believed that Richardson was a good person and had a good sense of business, but thought that Richardson did not quite know what he was getting himself into. Jerry’s son Jon was also skeptical. He had never even heard his father mention the idea of owning a football team prior to starting the task. His doubters never wavered Richardson’s confidence. He often exhumed his confidence by writing the initials W.G.G.T.F.F. at the end of his letters. These initials stood for "We’re Gonna Get That Fucking Franchise" (Menzer 17).

With the help of Max Muhleman and his sons, Richardson was able to convince the league that Carolina was a perfect location for franchise. The achievement of the Charlotte Hornets helped propel the goal. Muhleman, having already had success convincing the NBA that Charlotte was an ideal location, did not have tremendous difficulty pitching the same idea to the NFL. Although the league was easily convinced of the location, selling them on the aspects of the team was a little more difficult. The original name for the team was to be the Carolina Cougars which was favored for its alliteration. Jerry Richardson, however, preferred the Panthers which he thought of as more sleek, mysterious, and powerful. Richardson let his son Mark come up with team colors. Mark decided on black, blue, and silver, which Jerry became very fond of. The NFL, on the other hand, thought that too many teams already had black as a primary color and wanted Carolina to have purple uniforms (Menzer 16). Richardson stood by his choice, even often using the initials B.B., which stood for Black and Blue, on his letters, and having his license plate read PNTHRS. He pushed for his favored colors and logo, finally swaying the league to accept (Menzer 17).

The task of financing of the team’s construction became quite daunting. Before starting the project, Richardson had estimated that the stadium would cost around $85,000,000 to build, and the franchise fee would cost $50,000,000, totaling a cost of $135,000,000 for the team. Both of his estimations were far below what the expenses actually became. The National Football League charged a $220,000,000 franchise fee and the stadium ended up costing $183,000,000, totaling a grand expense of $403,000,000 (Menzer 14). Richardson was very overwhelmed by this great expense and said he would have never tried to start the team if he had known how extreme the financial burden would be. By the time he had realized the overall cost, he was already in too deep and could not turn back.

Richardson needed an innovative idea to come up with the financial resources to produce the team. After using up his personal funds and borrowing large sums of money, he was still short of covering the entire cost. Many of his consultants and league officials advised him to seek help from the tax payers. Most stadiums receive help in funding from the city, but Richardson did not want to burden the tax payers. He was very strong in his belief that the tax payers should not have to suffer the cost of his stadium. With help from his friend Louis Howell, Richardson came up with an idea that would not only fund the remaining cost, but revolutionize the NFL. The idea of Personal Seat License, or PSLs, helped save the franchise. PSLs work on the premise that fans pay a fee, usually $1,000-$5,000, for the right to buy season tickets for life. Richardson absolutely loved this idea. Not only would it pay for the remainder of the cost, but it would ensure loyalty from the fans. Fans who have PSLs have a sense of ownership of the stadium. When Richardson discussed how PSLs affected the fans, he claimed, "The fans will take care of the stadium. They’re not going to trash it. These fans will be off the charts" (Menzer 18). The idea was sensationally successful. The team raised $84,000,000 from sales of PSLs, and now every team in the NFL uses them (Menzer 18). With the financial weight finally relieved, Richardson was able to set in place the Carolina Panthers.

On October 16, 1993, Jerry Richardson was named the first former player to own an NFL team since George Halas (Jerry Richardson Bio). The Panthers had a home, and the Carolinas had a football team. With general manager Bill Polian, hired after being involved in four Superbowl runs with the Buffalo Bills, and head coach Dom Capers, former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator, the Panthers went on to have the most successful expansion campaign in the history of the National Football League (Goodman 11). Years after going through the strenuous effort of creating the Panthers, Richardson still owns and operates the team; he is now known as one of the most respected and classiest owners in the league. After a great struggle, he was able to hold on to his promise to bring professional football to his home. He still now carries with him the class and prestige that helped him form a dynasty.

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