Jerry Richardson & the Wizard of Oz

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The great and powerful Wizard of Oz has come out from behind his curtain and graced the members of the lowly public with two recent appearances. Oh, I’m sorry, did I say the Wizard of Oz? I meant Jerry Richardson, the largely absentee owner of the Carolina Panthers. Richardson gave his first press conference in nine years recently, and was criticized for seeming arrogant, out of it, and very much out of touch with fans’ concerns. When Observer columnist Tommy Tomlinson chided the Wiz ... er, Richardson about it, the NFL team owner must have realized he’d screwed the pooch, and called up Tomlinson to talk about it. Apparently, Richardson was friendly and amenable to discussion, but he still came across as someone who sorely needs a better grip on the team’s fans’ version of reality.

Big Jerry just couldn’t believe, for instance, how fans griped when he raised ticket prices last year between $1 and $9 a seat per game. After all, the increase was “so modest,” the Wiz told Tomlinson. Later, he as much as said that Panthers fans are ignoramuses who don’t know NFL history: “We’ve only been in (the NFL) a short while ... we haven’t been in the league 75 years like the Pittsburgh Steelers. Our fan base is young. They don’t know the up-and-down cycles.”

OK, Jerry of Oz, first about the ticket price increases. They wouldn’t have drawn such anger if three other things hadn’t also happened: 1. If you hadn’t raised prices eight times in 11 years; 2. If tickets weren’t overpriced to begin with; and 3. If your team hadn’t become the definition of cheap mediocrity in professional sports.

As for Panthers fans being “young” and not knowing “the up-and-down cycles,” is that really how you see the fans? Grumpy whippersnappers who just don’t understand the NFL? Well, as dear ol’ Dad used to say, lemme tell you somethin’: You were right, Jerry, when you said the NFL has changed dramatically; but it’s not just increased offensive power that’s different. What has also changed is how big a slice of folks' discretionary spending NFL tickets take, compared to just, say, 15 years ago. In fact, some pundits say that your funding method of selling seat licenses is one of the things that has pushed NFL ticket prices upward, Jerry, so it’s surprising that you don’t understand the fans’ ire over costs. And that “up-and-down cycles” thing? Unfortunately, that describes the Panthers from one year to the next — not the “longer view” of 75 years. Again, it comes down to costs. It was easier to see the long-term picture in the old days, when you didn’t have to put off surgery in order to afford season tickets. As you say, Jerry, it’s a business; and when the price is high, fans expect results sooner rather than later. As it stands now, fans are paying Mercedes prices for a Ford Focus product.

Plus — and this is something that’s not noted enough — many Panthers fans are primarily fans of other teams ... those from the fans’ former cities, or teams that fans have carried around in their hearts since childhood, before the Panthers came along. Those people are, like it or not, Panthers fans second. The team’s late entry into the NFL may not be your fault, Jerry, but it’s certainly something you need to realize and deal with realistically. But mostly, Jerry? You need to get out from behind that curtain more often.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson
  • Panthers owner Jerry Richardson

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