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June 2003
Appreciating Our Rich Sports Culture
By John Paul Galles

     Springtime brings to the fore the rich diversity of professional level sports we have access to here in Charlotte. For a city with just over a two and one-half million in our metropolitan population, Charlotte is robust with professional and minor league sports teams and more than respectable in its offerings of professional sporting events.

     For many years now, Charlotte has been privileged to host The Winston and the Coca-Cola 600. NASCAR races and teams have made the Charlotte region their unofficial headquarters. The success of NASCAR racing has propelled the growth of many ancillary businesses in the Charlotte area. Bruton Smith and Humpy Wheeler have built a racing venue that is fan friendly and will continue to grow over time.

     Charlotte has very competitive teams in traditional sports. Most notably, the NFL Panthers help make Charlotte a top tier city for pro sports. Its private group of owners – from Charlotte’s community leaders – fought hard for the franchise and privately financed the building of Ericcson Stadium. Credit also is to be given to the backers of the Charlotte Checkers, our ECHL hockey team, and the Charlotte Knights, our minor league baseball team. And this year we added the Charlotte Cobras, our newest sports team, in arena football.

     And then there is our Bob Johnson NBA team-to-be – the replacement for the Charlotte Hornets. There has been a groundswell of enthusiasm for the new team. Bob Johnson’s outreach to Charlotte demonstrates his commitment to the success of the new team. It is no wonder that the city would reverse its tracks and build a new arena based on the goodwill displayed by the new owner.

     Charlotte is once again the annual host of a PGA Tour golfing event, since losing the Kemper in 1979. The Wachovia Championship was an outstanding inaugural event. In the heart of the Carolinas, where golf can be played at least ten months out of a year, it was a brilliant conquest for Johnny Harris and the Wachovia leadership to bring the PGA tour back to Charlotte. The accolades by players, fans, media and tournament officials were incredibly strong and positive. It was a fitting inauguration for a new tournament and the new identity for the merged bank at the same time.

     Charlotte fans are quick to voice their disapproval of teams. Where else has a city determinedly lost a basketball franchise by overwhelmingly refusing to build an arena, only to successfully bid for a new franchise the following year and volunteer to build a new arena? At the same time, fans need to be supportive, especially when our events are being challenged to move elsewhere. While it is likely that a new sponsor will be a major determining factor in the future of The Winston, fan support over the years should also be a critical factor in keeping it here in Charlotte.

      Our top-drawer sporting events improve the recognition of our city and expand the identity of Charlotte not just in the nation, but to the world. Sports participation and sporting events dramatically affect our local economy. It is important not to take for granted our sports teams and the industries that support them and to realize that these sporting events are not guaranteed to remain in Charlotte.

     The very diversity of our sport teams and events attract different people. Different people view Charlotte from many different perspectives. It is that diversity that breeds new opportunities for entrepreneurship, competition and creativity within our marketplace.


John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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