The city of Spartanburg saw an increase in visitors to the area of nearly 60% from last year during the Carolina Panthers’ training camp at Wofford College.
According to the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, there were 77,625 visitors to the 21-day training camp for the National Football League franchise based in Charlotte.
“I think it was a perfect storm,” said Chris Jennings, director of the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We had great weather, except for maybe one practice. You had a fan-friendly facility that was really spruced up.
“It is an experience, and that’s want the Panthers’ wanted it to be.”
He said the Panthers opened up a second gate to allow fans into practices and the SCVB added staff and interns to accommodate the increased traffic to training camp.
Carolina wrapped up its camp with two days of joint practices with the Miami Dolphins in Spartanburg. It is the first time the Panthers have hosted a joint practice at Wofford.
“Can you imagine if they bring in a team like the Dallas Cowboys or the New England Patriots?” Jennings said.
The SCVB will be researching and gauging the number of fans along with the spending and economic impact of visitors to the training camp. Allen Smith, president and CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said he expected that impact to be more than $6 million. The final numbers will be due by the middle of September.
“Attendance is up more than 58% from 2014, so we expect a significant increase in spending and impact to Spartanburg County this year,” Smith said.
Last year, there were just over 49,000 visitors to training camp, which generated an economic impact of nearly $5 million, according to the SCVB.
Jennings said another factor to the increase in attendance was the signing of quarterback Cam Newton to a long-term contract prior to the start of training camp. According to Spotrac, a website that tracks professional athlete’s contracts, Newton’s contract is for five years and is worth $103.8 million which includes a $22.5 million signing bonus and $60 million in guaranteed money to the 26-year-old former No. 1 draft pick from the University of Auburn.
“We saw a difference in the types of fans coming here,” Jennings said. “The restaurants and shops downtown said they had a lot of people from Charlotte, which is a great thing and that may say they are happy.”
Having the two-time NFC South division champions practice for three weeks in your neighborhood doesn’t hurt attendance either, Jennings said.
“They really play the two states, one team thing very well and everyone really rallies around that,” Jennings said.
Panthers’ team President Danny Morrison said the “efforts of the Spartanburg community” attributed to the growth in training camp attendance.
“In addition, our players were most appreciative of the tremendous support,” Morrison said.
According to the SCVB numbers, fan attendance at Panthers’ training camp has increased since 2010. The jump this year from 2014 is the largest increase since numbers were tracked. Jennings said the goal now is to look ahead to next year.
“I think there are some real building blocks for next year,” Jennings said. “The businesses in the Upstate would love to connect. We can have a great downtown event to say ‘thank you’ to the Panthers. It would be another way to connect businesses to the Panthers here.
“We love partnerships here in Spartanburg. We have already talked about having the Charlotte CVB come down here for fan day and, on the same token, we go up to Charlotte for the same thing.”