Panthers founder Jerry Richardson dies at 86

Jerome J. Richardson was born on July 18, 1936, in Spring Hope, North Carolina, the first stop on a journey that would transform the Carolinas.

After growing up in the Fayetteville area, Richardson went to Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC; where he excelled in football and laid the foundations of a business empire that would allow him to return to the game he had once walked away from.

He still holds the school single-game record for receiving yards (241 against Newberry in 1956), as well as records for receiving touchdowns in a season (9) and career (21). This kind of production earned him Associated Press Little All-America honors in 1957 and 1958, and in 1959 he was drafted by the Baltimore Colts.

With the Colts, he shared a room with quarterback Johnny Unitas and caught a Hall of Fame touchdown pass in the 1959 NFL Championship Game.

But after his second season, he left the NFL in a financial dispute and returned to Spartanburg to begin his business career. Using his championship game bonus as start-up capital, he opened his first Hardee’s restaurant in Spartanburg.

There he began to emphasize customer service which would carry over to his management of his football team.

When he owned the team, Richardson often referred to lessons learned selling burgers. He would occasionally drop by restaurants to check out, sticking his head in line to surprise customers and employees.

This kind of attention to detail was reminiscent of his days as owner of the Panthers, in which he approved the details of landscaping plans (plants native to each state on the north and south sides of the stadium for represent the two Carolinas) and the field paint job. On game days, he drove around Bank of America Stadium in his golf cart, waving to fans and snapping photos, savoring the moments.

But before he could go through those games and bask in the adulation for bringing the NFL to the Carolinas, he had to deliver them.

Richardson began the process of building a football team in July 1987, when he met with former Bank of America CEO and Charlotte icon Hugh McColl to discuss his dream of bringing the sport to his home. native country.

Charlotte had already become a professional sports town with the arrival of the NBA Hornets in 1988, but this was the time when the town struggled to forge an identity other than a regional outpost, still confused with Charleston, SC or Charlottesville, Va. , and years before becoming a national banking center.

Along the way, decisions were made that changed the face of the sports industry. He enlisted Max Muhleman, head of sports marketing, and they implemented the first permanent seat licensing concept, in which fans paid an upfront fee for access to subscriptions. The Panthers were the first team to use the concept, and the influx of money was crucial to the private financing of what was then known as Carolinas Stadium.

But until October 26, 1993 — the day Richardson was awarded the NFL’s 29th franchise — it was all still a dream, to everyone but Richardson.

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