Lucas: Charlotte Stage A Natural Fit
With scheduled scrimmages in Greensboro and Charlotte over the past two springs, Larry Fedora has made a conscious effort to take Carolina football to the entire Tar Heel state. Now, he'll get an opportunity to do it through a regular season game, as Carolina and South Carolina will play in Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 5, 2015.
The game is the culmination of nearly a year's worth of effort by the parties involved, which include the city of Charlotte and the athletic departments in Chapel Hill and Columbia.
"We started working on this last May," said Will Webb, the executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation. "We had general discussions with each school about how we could make it a home run for both schools and for Charlotte. There were lots of discussions at the athletic department level that progressed, and staffs at both school worked with us over months of concepts and financings and dates."
The date question turned out to be a key one. Kickoff games were popular decades ago--Carolina played in the Pigskin Classic in Anaheim to open the 1993 campaign--but waned in the earliest part of the 21st century. Now, they're on the rebound. The Tar Heels traveled to Atlanta to face LSU in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in 2010, and that opening slot on the schedule has become an increasingly popular time to stage high-profile nonconference games.
The reasoning: Simple schedule mechanics.
"The conference scheduling is so important, and that's basically the last eight weeks of the season," said UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham. "If you're going to play a high-profile, nonconference game it makes sense to play it the first weekend of the season, when the NFL isn't playing and it's a wide-open window for ESPN and other platforms. It just makes sense."
The matchup between the Tar Heels and the Gamecocks is similarly common-sense. Charlotte is 140 miles from Chapel Hill and 93 miles from Columbia, putting it virtually equidistant between two programs from high-profile, competing conferences.
Add in the fact that the city has a solid high school football talent base and an NFL stadium due to be renovated before the 2015 game date, and you've got most of the ingredients for an appealing stage.
"We're excited about this opportunity and I believe it will be a unique experience that our students, coaches and fans will all enjoy," Fedora said. "The Charlotte area has always been an important region in the Tar Heel state for Carolina football. It's where our league championship game is played and it has always been a city with outstanding high school football. We look forward to playing a marquee game in an NFL stadium."
It sounds simple, right?
But with home football games a key revenue source for athletic departments across the country, the game has to be more than just an interesting matchup. It also has to make financial and logistical sense.
"We had to look at a pricing model where we could keep some tickets affordable for families who want to watch football," Webb said. "And we had to work with the Panthers to make sure we could secure a date two years in advance."
"The economic model is based on a sellout crowd," Cunningham said. "If we sell it out, which we all believe we will, it will be more financially beneficial to us than a home game."
The game, which will be more convenient for the thousands of Tar Heel alums in the Queen City, doesn't mean fans will miss out on a fall afternoon in Kenan Stadium. Cunningham indicated Carolina will always host at least six home games in Chapel Hill--including in 2015--and will semi-regularly bump that figure to seven home games, as in 2013.
Adam Lucas is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly and the author or co-author of seven books on the Tar Heels.