|Panthers owner Jerry Richardson does it his way|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 31 January 2008 01:28|
Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson? Unimpressed, likely.
It's just not his style.
``We don't play wild music at the games. We try to do things in a dignified way,'' the 71-year-old Richardson said this month in a rare interview with a handful of reporters. ``And we try to make the outside of the stadium as pristine as it can be and the restrooms as clean as they can be. We want a family environment.''
Richardson does things his way, and cares little about the backlash. There was intense criticism when the stadium opened in 1996 and the team banned fans from taking their shirts off and displaying painted chests.
Good decorum is emphasized. There is no loud public address announcer. There is a pregame prayer. The music is conservative - some say stale. The game-day presentation is simple, all the way down to the NFL shield at midfield.
``We have the NFL logo on the 50-yard line for reasons we have talked about before - we want to reemphasize to our fans that this is NFL football and not something else,'' Richardson said.
Many have suggested the Panthers' toned-down presentation is the reason they've struggled to win at home. Carolina lost seven straight at Bank of America Stadium before beating San Francisco in December. It was a rare bright spot in a 7-9 season that left the Panthers out of the playoffs for a second straight year.
But Richardson isn't easily swayed. He dismissed calls for him to fire coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, convinced the duo can put Carolina into the playoffs next season. And Richardson is sure that a family setting at Bank of America Stadium is the way to go, instead of the loud, intimidating atmosphere that other teams try to create for a home-field advantage.
To Richardson, a former NFL receiver who played with Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts, protecting the NFL identity trumps everything else.
``This is the most powerful brand in sports,'' Richardson said.
Richardson is well respected among his peers. He's served on powerful NFL owners committees, including a failed stint on a group that tried to put an NFL team back in Los Angeles.
But you'll never see Richardson on the sideline during games or in commercials, like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. You'll never see him in public spats with the league, like Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders.
You'll rarely hear from Richardson at all. When he sat down with reporters this month, the media-shy Richardson joked that he had met his quota for 2008.
But while Richardson shies away from the spotlight, he's one of the most influential owners in the league. When he was presented an award in June by a local group, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell flew to Charlotte to present it to him.
``I believe he has put together a model franchise here,'' Goodell said then. ``He's done everything he can to make sure this franchise represents the community in the best possible way.''
There are questions about whether it's working. The Panthers have made the playoffs only three times in their 13 seasons. While Richardson has never shied away from spending money, the Panthers have never had consecutive winning seasons. They are as far away from the dominant New England Patriots as anyone.
And while there may not be loud music, fans are subjected to numerous advertising announcements during games. Fans have complained about commercials running instead of replays on the outdated video boards, which are scheduled to be replaced this year.
The imposing, grandfather-like Richardson remains confident. When explaining how he decided to keep Fox and Hurney during the team's five-game losing streak this season, Richardson told a long story about how he first made a tour of the stadium, talking to janitors and grounds crew members and trying to pump up morale.
``I talked to them about how fortunate we were to be in the NFL,'' Richardson said, ``and how people would love to have their jobs.''