CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It’s been a long time since we’ve heard from Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, and he answered a lot of questions Wednesday afternoon.
Tepper spoke on several topics including his strong desire to have fans back at games, the decision to release Cam Newton and the removal of the Jerry Richardson statue.
The Panthers organization and its fans are taking a big hit from the pandemic. More than half of the team’s PSL owners have apparently opted out of their season tickets. Those who opted out will not have their owner status impacted for the 2021 season.
The Panthers announced this week that the team would kick off the season without fans, but on Wednesday, Tepper made it crystal clear he would like to see fans back in the stands by next month.
The Panthers wanted to have a limited number of fans for their first home game this season Sept. 13, but the team was denied an exception for the game by the state.
Tepper pointed out there would be a competitive disadvantage if the team wasn’t allowed to have some fans by October since the rest of the NFC South teams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans, are expecting to play their games in front of fans around their third game.
“It’s hard to not have fans in the building especially when all our division rivals have fans in their building,” Tepper said.
“I think the league is determined that the teams that can have fans will have fans and the teams that can’t have fans, can’t have fans. It’s just a question of how the different regions are, I guess, and what they view and how the different governors are, and it’s maybe how much they like football or not,” Tepper joked.
Tepper regrets fans not being in attendance to start the year. He also says he is disappointed that families of first-year players won’t be able to be in attendance, as well as families of other players and coaches.
“I don’t love all the red ink that we’re going to see this year, but I hate more not seeing the fans in the building. I have other means, OK, of income. I do have other businesses,” Tepper said. “I’m using this for the fans and for football.”
“I miss the fans, that’s what it’s about, it’s about winning and the fans,” Tepper said. “They are an undeniable edge for us.”
For the very first time, Tepper publicly addressed the removal of the Jerry Richardson statue back in June.
Tepper seemed to clarify the statue will likely not be coming back to Bank of America Stadium under his ownership. Tepper said the initial reason for removing the statue nearly three months ago was because of safety.
“It was a safety reason at the time. If you remember the environment, every statue in the country was coming under attack. So, it just made sense from all standpoints to move that statue. And we made a fast decision. It was the right decision. And that’s why it was done,” Tepper said.
Tepper was later asked if he could see a scenario when the statue returned under calmer circumstances.
“As far as a statue is concerned, I don’t think that things will ever be quieted down, OK? ... Nor should they,” Tepper said.
One of the biggest topics this summer was the team releasing franchise quarterback Cam Newton after nine years with the organization.
Tepper shared that his wife, Nicole, was crying about the decision and that it was not an easy one to make.
Newton had one year left on his contract and was owed $21.1 million. Tepper said the uncertainty of COVID-19 and the difficult situation with Newton’s contract played a big role in the decision.
Newton is now the quarterback for the New England Patriots.
“We really respected Cam, and we still (do) obviously, and I wish him the best possible up in New England. The problem with COVID and such, and not knowing what was going on made it very difficult, put us in a very difficult position, and his salary, quite frankly,” Tepper said. “We made the best possible decision we could given the circumstances. And as I said, I have great respect for Cam. The best up in England.”
Tepper also spoke about more than 20 employees of Tepper Sports and Entertainment being furloughed or laid off, with the majority being furloughs until the end of January due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.
“When we came in here, we did make a lot of changes. So there were two different levels. Some of those things were changes that needed to be done for a while. And some of those are just responding to the current environment of limited fans. And listen, it’s very difficult times and we’ll have to see what comes,” Tepper said. “I doubt that we’ll have full fans this season and listen, it’s difficult decisions, and I mean it’s decisions that keep me up, that still keep me up. But the question is: What’s right for the organization and what’s right for the individual and the long term? That’s what you have to think about when you’re running an organization. I don’t take one person lightly.”
Reporters asked about Panthers General Manager Marty Hurney’s contract, that goes through June 2021. Tepper says that conversation hasn’t come up just yet as other business continues to be handled.
“I have constant conversations with Marty. It hasn’t come up. There’s been too much to do to have those conversations. You should ask me that question later on,” Tepper said. “I think Marty and I are very concentrated on doing as much as we can, and obviously coach Rhule, in getting this football team in shape and making sure we do keep the players safe and healthy and starting the season, and that’s all we care about right now.”
When asked about social justice, Tepper says he moreso has had conversations about diversity in the workplace and it is something the team is focusing on, especially on the business side of the organization.