Johnny Hekker studied German in high school and always wanted to visit Germany, but a busy football schedule didn't allow the Panthers' punter to make a trip – until this year's draft weekend.
Thanks to the team's International Home Marketing Area (IHMA) rights in Germany, the Panthers had the option to announce a draft pick live from the country. So in the fourth round, with the 114th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Hekker announced Carolina's selection of N.C. State guard Chandler Zavala.
With Hekker's trip to Germany, the Panthers became the first IHMA team to bring a current player to Germany, outside of those who played in the Munich game.
"I had a ton of fun over there," Hekker said. "(I) was able to meet some great people that are working on our behalf over there, as far as marketing, just getting the Panthers brand more recognizable in Germany. We had a great following of fans that showed up for the draft pick. Really appreciate all the support."
Dressed in lederhosen and fresh off a weekend full of activities in Germany, Hekker shared the Panthers' pick on TV, surrounded by fans in Frankfurt's Römerberg – the most iconic shot in the historic city center, where kings of the German-Roman Empire were elected, and where the current Lord Mayor lives.
Wearing lederhosen was more of a choice to entertain American audiences than capture an accurate account of the Frankfurt area.
"I'm glad to be an owner of it now; I own the lederhosen," Hekker said. "So when I go back in the future, go to Munich for an Oktoberfest, I'll be suited and booted."
The Panthers hosted a draft event following Hekker's announcement at Zum Schwarzen Stern, a restaurant in Römerburg. More than 50 Panthers fans showed up for giveaways, autographs from Hekker, and to watch the rest of the draft together.
Before Saturday's fourth-round draft pick announcement, Hekker toured Frankfurt landmarks, including the Main Tower and Eiserner Steg (Iron Bridge), home to thousands of love locks. He also met two Eintracht Frankfurt players with ties to the U.S. – Paxton Aaronson and Timothy Chandler – and the trio swapped jerseys.
"It was really fun just being in the city, experiencing new culture," Hekker said. "Just seeing new people, a bunch of old historic buildings, cool things. … (I) got to speak some German, brush up on some of my words with people, and interact with some great fans."
Hekker later attended an Eintracht Frankfurt match, his first Bundesliga event, before announcing the Panthers' fourth-round draft pick on Saturday. He also met the new Lord Mayor of Frankfurt, Mike Josef, and the U.S. General Consulate in Frankfurt, Norman Schrapf.
"Maybe the highlight of the (trip) was on Saturday. I got to go to the Eintracht Frankfurt match; it was a Bundesliga match. Got to watch their fans and to see the whole game day atmosphere. They're so incredible, really, really proud, historic fanbase. So it was fun to see them and just to experience that. It was a really great deal."
The Panthers continue to build the brand through German social accounts and web articles, which have been part of the outreach since 2019.
The Panthers' various efforts in Germany, including February’s Keep Pounding Tour with Luke Kuechly, came after the December 2021 announcement by the NFL that awarded the Carolina Panthers International Home Marketing Area (IHMA) rights in Germany. These rights give the Panthers access to Germany for marketing, fan engagement, and commercialization as part of the NFL's long-term, strategic effort to build global brands and drive international NFL fan growth. Participation in the International Home Marketing Area (IHMA) initiative spans 19 teams across 10 countries.
View photos of fans and punter Johnny Hekker in Frankfurt, Germany, as Hekker announced the Panthers' fourth-round draft pick.