Carolina Panthers Come to Spartanburg for 23rd Year

Since 1995, when Jerry Richardson brought an expansion NFL football team to the Carolinas, the Panthers have been holding their training camp at Richardson’s alma mater, Wofford College, in Spartanburg. While many NFL teams have moved to their own on-site facilities for training camp, the Panthers team is one of a handful that still goes to a college campus for training, and it is one of the most fan-accessible camps in the league.

The reason for that, says Wofford deputy athletic director Mark Line, is that Richardson feels strongly that “it’s the Carolina Panthers, not the Charlotte Panthers”—and as one of Wofford’s most prominent alumni, he decided right at the beginning to bring the Panthers to Spartanburg to train.

The national exposure is good for Spartanburg, but also for Wofford. The football program there is over 100 years old, Line says, and Richardson is by far the most famous football alumnus. The athletics programs at Wofford have benefited from Richardson’s generosity, most notably the Richardson Physical Activities Building, donated by Richardson, which houses the Panthers’ administrative offices during camp. “We have NFL-quality practice fields, which we wouldn’t have without the Panthers,” Line says. And what makes a field NFL quality? “Basically perfect,” he says. “Our practice fields need to be as good as theirs.”

Panthers fan Brian Corbin has been coming from Asheville every year since around 2000, and he started bringing his son Thomas in 2010, when Thomas was nine. The father and son try to go to as many home games during the season as they can, but the fact that the training camp is free to the public is a big draw, Corbin says. “And it’s probably the best opportunity to really get to see the Panthers up close and personal,” he says.

Corbin and his son like to come every year to see the new talent—this year they’re excited about rookies Christian McCaffree and Curtis Samuel—but it’s also fun for Thomas, now a high school linebacker going into his senior year, to see professional players going through the same drills his team does.

Being able to get player autographs is a big draw to the camps too, Corbin says. Thomas has been able to get autographs every year, but the highlights have been getting his favorite player, Thomas Davis (left), and star Cam Newton to sign a ball (photo below).

Corbin and his son stayed at the Marriott near Wofford last year when they came to the training camp following last year’s NFC championship, and, he says, “We were stunned at the media coverage and the people from out of town. If your team wins, you get a lot more interest, more excitement.” They saw ESPN personalities at the hotel and even ran into Newton in the elevator.

The addition of Cam Newton to the team nearly doubled the attendance at the Panthers Training Camp. Both Corbin and Line noted the jump, and it’s backed up by numbers captured by the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau: In 2010, 26,760 people attended; the following year, when Newton was signed to the team, 34,342 people came, and in 2012, after Newton’s first season playing, attendance was up to 44,255. “He’s the star,” Line says, “and he plays that role really well.”

The Panthers’ appearance in the Super Bowl in 2015 caused another big jump, from just over 49,000 in 2014 to more than 77,000. The following year, attendance nearly doubled again, to over 135,000 visitors to Spartanburg last year. That created a total economic impact of more than $13 million, according to Chris Jennings, executive vice president of the Spartanburg CVB.

Jennings says, “This is a signature event for Spartanburg, so we make sure to include the Carolina Panthers Training Camp in our destination marketing efforts. From our tourism website, to our annual Visitors Guide, to our TV ads, Panthers Camp is showcased front and center.

“Mr. Richardson and his staff at the Carolina Panthers have been amazing partners since Training Camp started in Spartanburg 23 years ago, and Panther fans have one of the best experiences in the NFL here at Wofford College. Once practice ends, fans are welcome to enjoy family attractions, amazing live entertainment and outdoor recreation opportunities, as well as great food from in the city and around the county.”

Click here for this year’s training schedule—and be sure to drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen when you come out to see the team practice.

 Photo credits: Banner, top right—Mark Olencki/Wofford College; Center left, bottom right—Brian Corbin

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.

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