The perfectly manicured practice fields at Wofford College will again be filled with the sights and sounds of NFL football this summer - and beyond.
The Carolina Panthers and Wofford have reached a five-year extension on their training camp partnership, the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce announced Monday. The Panthers have held their first 20 training camps at Wofford and are now set to ring in their 25th anniversary there thanks to the agreement through 2019.
The partnership has been a perfect one, the kind of pairing Panthers Founder/Owner Jerry Richardson envisioned well before his franchise even existed. Richardson, a North Carolina native, was a football star at Wofford in the 1950s and began his successful career as a businessman in Spartanburg.
"One of the most important elements for Mr. Richardson some 26 years ago when he was going after an NFL team was that it would be named the Carolina Panthers with a presence in both North Carolina and South Carolina," team president Danny Morrison said. "It's been a great run for 20 years, and to be able to go ahead and extend it for five years is exciting."
Morrison, also a Wofford graduate, was the athletic director at his alma mater when the Panthers and the Terriers first became partners. He said it's like a homecoming of sorts each summer not only for him but for long-tenured players and staff.
"Wofford goes out of their way to make it first-class," Morrison said. "The facilities at Wofford are fantastic. They take great care of our team. All of their staff jumps through hoops to make it perfect for us. The fields are always in great shape, and the facilities are excellent.
"It's been a really good experience for all, and we're delighted to have the continued relationship."
Only three NFL franchises – the Pittsburgh Steelers (St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.), Green Bay Packers (St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis.) and Minnesota Vikings (Minnesota State in Mankato, Minn.) – have maintained the same training camp host longer than the Panthers, whose first camp commenced at Wofford in 1995. The event's positive impact on Wofford is obvious to the thousands of fans who flock to training camp each August and see the school's facilities up-close.
"Getting the Panthers to campus was critical to Wofford's current athletics success and profile," Wofford president Nayef Samhat said. "Wofford is so thankful for Jerry Richardson and the Panthers for providing this opportunity for the college. Mr. Richardson and his family continue to be generous to the college and have a positive impact on the campus and our students.
"We look forward to working with the Spartanburg community – the city, the county and the Chamber – to continue to enhance the training camp experience for our community and visitors."
Allen Smith, CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said training camp drew 49,000 visitors and created a $5.2 million impact for the area in 2014.
"Based on last year's figures, this means over the next five years, we will welcome 245,000 Panthers fans to Spartanburg, and the economic impact will total $26 million," Smith said. "This is exciting news for the Spartanburg community and for tourism to our region.
"Spartanburg is proud to be among the handful of communities hosting an NFL training camp. Most teams are moving to hold their camps on their home turf – only 11 of 32 teams hold training camp away from their home cities. I want to thank Jerry Richardson and Wofford College for creating this partnership for the community in which we all can share and enjoy."