CHARLOTTE, NC - The Atlantic Coast Conference is making Charlotte, North Carolina the long-term home for its football championship game, keeping it in the Queen City through 2030.
“Charlotte remains at the center of our footprint,” Commissioner John Swofford said Thursday at a news conference, during which he cited the fact that eight of the league’s schools are within 300 miles of the city as among the reasons the conference wanted to keep the game here.
Solid attendance figures were also a major consideration in the decision for the 10-year contract extension that allows the Charlotte Sports Foundation to continue hosting the game.
The conference championship has been played at Bank of America Stadium, home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, seven of the past eight seasons — and four of those were sellouts. That includes last year’s championship game when 74,372 fans watched No. 1 Clemson defeat No. 7 Miami 38-3.
“Charlotte has been an outstanding partner for the ACC and has shown continued commitment to help the growth of this game,” Swofford said. “... This game has truly found a home in Charlotte.”
The contract extension comes in the midst of uncertainty over the future of the Panthers ownership — as well as the future of the stadium.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced in December he was selling the team amid reports of sexual and racial remarks made in the workplace. The NFL is continuing to investigate the matter while Richardson evaluates bids to buy the team he brought to the Carolinas as an expansion franchise in 1993.
A new owner could be announced as soon as next month at the NFL owners meetings in Atlanta.
The Panthers are only tethered to Bank of America Stadium through the 2019 season, so the new ownership group could decide to build a new stadium or even relocate the team — although the latter would seem to be a longshot considering the strong NFL fan base in Charlotte.
“That is addressed in the arrangement in terms of the opportunity to discuss and potentially play in that new stadium,” Swofford said. “We would probably need to sit down with the new ownership and see what that might entail. But we would fully expect to be able to successfully do that.”
Swofford said negotiations to keep the game in Charlotte began before Richardson announced he was selling the franchise. Once the news broke of Richardson’s decision both sides agreed there was no reason to slow down the contract talks.
“I would expect to have the same kind of relationship with whoever owns the team in the future as we have now,” Swofford said.
“We are thrilled to extend our partnership with the Atlantic Coast Conference,” said Panthers COO Tina Becker said in a statement. “The Carolina Panthers and the ACC are a natural fit and I would like to thank Commissioner Swofford and the Charlotte Sports Foundation for all of the hard work to keep this premier sporting event in our city.”
The seven previous ACC championship games in Charlotte have averaged more than 70,000 fans per game, with a record attendance of 74,514 in 2015 when Clemson played North Carolina.
Over the last eight years, the ACC championship game ranks second among all conferences in attendance for its football title games.
The game is “a cornerstone of our foundation,” Johnny Harris, chairman of the board of directors of the Charlotte Sports Foundation said in a release.
The ACC men’s basketball championship will also be played in Charlotte next year.
Unlike the basketball tournament championship which rotates between cities from year to year, Swofford likes the idea of the football championship staying in one location.
“The beauty of Charlotte and keeping the game here is that it gives us an opportunity to build that entire weekend,” Swofford said. “When I go around the league and talk to players and coaches, it’s now ‘Hey, we want to get to Charlotte’ because of the springboard that gives them to get to the college football playoff. ... So that becomes pretty special.”
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