The Panthers are considering this Rock Hill-area site for potential practice facility
Buzz continues to build over the possibility that the Carolina Panthers could relocate their team’s practice facility to South Carolina, specifically in Rock Hill.
It’s possible that a potential Panthers practice facility would include at least one stadium holding around 10,000 seats. The Panthers could hold preseason practices and scrimmages there, then practice at the facility during the week through the NFL regular season’s end.
The practice facility would be pretty booked up most of the week. But what about Friday nights?
A source close to the Panthers told The Herald that the organization is exploring the possibility of hosting some high school football games at any potential new practice facility in South Carolina, whether in Rock Hill or elsewhere.
“Quite honestly, to have them program Friday night football there and potentially the other opportunities that would create would be fabulous,” said Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys. “The only problem they’re gonna have, and I say this as a joke but there is some reality to it as well, they’re gonna have to build a 15,000-seat facility to make sure that they can host these high school football games. Because it isn’t just regular city football, this is Football City, USA. I think it would be wonderful for the community.”
If the Panthers scheduled high school football games at a hypothetical new practice facility, they’d become one of just a handful of NFL teams to do so. The Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings have both recently built sparkling new practice facilities that include centerpiece stadiums with around 10,000 seats. Both the Cowboys and the Vikings host regular season and postseason games for local high schools at their practice facility stadiums. Several NFL teams host high school games at their actual stadiums, though the atmosphere is markedly different in a 70,000-seat venue.
Gettys said he thinks a Panthers practice facility could enable Rock Hill’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism board to attract the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas high school football all-star game from Spartanburg to Rock Hill, or maybe the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Bowl, formerly known as the North-South all-star game, which is played annually in Myrtle Beach. Or maybe even South Carolina High School League football state championship games, which are currently played at Benedict College and Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, or Panthers QB Cam Newton’s annual 7-on-7 national championships, which Nation Ford and Northwestern have previously hosted.
And the Rock Hill School District was equally interested in the possibility of a Panthers facility being used on Friday nights.
“District officials have been involved in one meeting with team representatives,” district spokesman Mychal Frost said. “Nothing is final and we remain optimistic about future possibilities and partnerships with the Panthers organization.”
Rock Hill already is a marquee destination for BMX and cycling, and will become a mainstay on traveling youth basketball circuits once the Knowledge Park indoor sports facility opens this summer. Adding an elite football facility would only enhance the town’s reputation as a sports mecca.
“When you look at the impact sports tourism has for our bottom line as a community, we bring in a lot of money every year that offsets the need to increase property taxes and other things,” Gettys said. “So it really just gives us opportunities as a community that no one else can offer.”
And there is at least one city school that would be very interested in making any future Panthers’ practice facility stadium a semi-permanent home.
Legion Collegiate Academy opens in the fall of 2019 and doesn’t have a home football stadium. The Lancers will play all of their 2019 games on the road, and athletic director and head football coach Strait Herron said the charter school won’t have the money to build its own stadium for several years. Herron said he would certainly be interested in talking to the Panthers about using an potential practice facility stadium, if the idea comes to fruition.
“It would be great if we didn’t have to worry about a stadium right off the bat and be able to use something as nice as what the Panthers would build,” Herron said Monday morning.
Herron said he had not spoken with anyone directly affiliated with the Panthers about the possibility of Legion Collegiate possibly using a Panthers training facility stadium on Friday nights.
But, he said, “I think it’s a perfect fit, and it’s what our town needs.”
A potential 5-15,000-seat stadium in Rock Hill also could host marquee games between high school football programs from the two Carolinas. The games already happen but could potentially attract bigger crowds. Picture Mallard Creek vs. South Pointe, or Northwestern vs. South Mecklenburg or Rock Hill High vs. Myers Park, with thousands of fans from both sides of the border streaming into the facility.
It’s an exciting mental image. And it forces Gettys to pinch himself and return to reality in dealing with Panthers representatives as the situation develops.
“We’ve had a lot of great conversations, all very general in nature and of course that’s tempered by other locations that they have identified as well,” Gettys said. “But there is a reason we’re called Football City, USA. And there is a reason that our sports tourism competes with Virginia and Florida. There is a reason why I think this is a viable opportunity for the Panthers organization.”
Learn more about the practice facilities and team headquarters that other NFL teams have in this interactive: