Carolina Panthers: Could franchise move to St. Louis before 2019 season?

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 17: Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson drives around the field with former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme prior to the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 17: Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson drives around the field with former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme prior to the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

While a longshot to move, the pending sale of the Carolina Panthers will cause rumors of a potential relocation to cities like St. Louis.

With the Carolina Panthers announcing that troubled owner Jerry Richardson will sell the franchise, the Charlotte Observer is already contemplating the team’s long-term future and ability to keep the organization in North Carolina. As the aforementioned article details, the Panthers could theoretically relocate as early as the 2019 season. With that, of course, will come the what-ifs regarding potential moves to cities like St. Louis or San Diego.

Richardson, who was one of the most ardent supporters of St. Louis’ efforts to retain the Rams and made extensive efforts to help the city in its fight to retain the NFL, could potentially be sympathetic to listening to a St. Louis based bid. Of course, the most likely course of action would result in the Panthers remaining in Charlotte for the foreseeable future. Any possibility outside of that is currently nothing more than a completely speculative daydream. Nobody should consider it anything more than that right now.

With that understood, cash often talks louder than anything else — as Stan Kroenke proved in moving the Rams to Los Angeles — and the St. Louis region has the type of big money individuals and families to afford an NFL franchise. Currently, Forbes values the Panthers at $2.3 billion, ranking No. 21 among all NFL teams.

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As for those from Missouri with the financial wherewithal (i.e. multi billionaires) to purchase an NFL franchise, the list would include the Taylor family (owners of Enterprise and the would-be naming rights for the proposed National Car Rental Field in St. Louis), the sports-rich Busch family, the Keinath family, Bill DeWitt and the Cardinals ownership group, Johnny Morris, Rodger O. Riney, Jack Dorsey and David Steward, among others.

But gaining approval to purchase the Panthers would only be one of many steps in a multi-layered process needed for an owner with St. Louis interests to both bring a team here and fully flourish.

Beyond that, the bitterness remaining following the Rams relocation, the political climate and division of St. Louis city and county and the current general political atmosphere at the state level towards sports funding would require a prospective ownership group to plan to privately pay for the large majority of an eventual new stadium development or significant upgrades to the dome.

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Sure, the city/county/state would likely assist with infrastructure, land and venue maintenance, but outside of a public vote to approve additional funding, getting more than that would seem unlikely.

In addition, a rebrand of the Panthers — after losing the Cardinals in 1988 (due to the region’s own missteps) and the Rams in 2016 (due largely to the owner’s lust for Los Angeles and a crooked relocation process) — would be a must for a franchise to thrive and optimize its opportunity to maximize its brand here. (St. Louis Stallions, anyone?)

Richardson would likely formally require and/or request that the Panthers name/brand remain in Charlotte for any sale as to both save face with the locals and secure the potential eventual long-term extension of the Panthers in North Carolina.

In terms of markets, St. Louis currently tops Charlotte in each of the following metrics listed below.

Currently, St. Louis is home to four of the nation’s 55 largest private companies and eight of the top 219. In relation to other league markets, St. Louis is roughly the same size as Denver and Tampa Bay and larger than Baltimore, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Nashville, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Buffalo and Green Bay.

Looking further, there are many other questions to consider around any possible return of the NFL to St. Louis inside of the next 10 to 15 years:

  1. How many NFL owners view St. Louis negatively based upon the lies and distortions voiced by the Rams in their relocation efforts or by inaccurate, misleading media reports on the market that were pushed in the past?
  2. How many St. Louisans and people throughout the state and broader region would be willing to start over with a third NFL team, even if it were a de-facto expansion team (rebrand) and the first truly STL based franchise?
  3. Could a prospective owner come forth with a solid enough reputation to be completely trusted in the aftermath of damages caused by Missouri turncoat Stan Kroenke? (Yes, but it would take the right person/family. Someone like the Busch’s, for example).
  4. With the St. Louis lawsuit against the NFL still pending, how would that impact any potential efforts to bring a team here? It could certainly hurt it, but is there a chance it could help if St. Louis were to come out on top?

These and many other questions that would need answered before any efforts to bring team here could be implemented. And it all could be a moot point if Richardson puts in a strict clause that the team remain (although that would limit the potential of someone from outside the market offering a larger, more lucrative bid and reduce the opportunity to generate a bidding war).

Though his opinion would not be a deciding factor in any sale, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera affirmed that he believes the team should remain in Charlotte, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"“This organization has been a source of pride and goodwill and I would like it to continue,” Rivera said Monday. “This is a great community with a very supportive fan base that has been out there for us. They have been here for me and this football team and I hope that somehow it is able to stay here.”"

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Furthermore, there is no guarantee that anyone with regional roots of St. Louis NFL interests will step forward and chase after the Panthers.

In the coming days and weeks, I will do some digging. I may find nothing. I may find something. Either way, the Panthers upcoming sale will generate plenty of speculation and interest from hopeful fans in markets currently without an NFL team, including those in St. Louis.