Broncos linebacker sacks Panthers quarterback Cam Newton during their… (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images )
ESPN, citing a source familiar with the discussions, reported Sunday that high-powered California political officials have been courting Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson about moving the franchise to Los Angeles.
The Panthers are one of four teams that own their own stadium, so they could move without breaking a lease. And the politicians reportedly spoke to Richardson at the recent Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., where L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was chairman of the convention.
Richardson issued a statement Sunday saying he’s dedicated to staying: “It has always been my desire that the Carolinas would be home of our Panthers. Nothing has changed. As someone who was born in North Carolina and lived much of my life in South Carolina, I hope that there would be no doubts about my personal devotion to the Carolinas.”
This is a telegraphed pass. The way for teams to fire a shot over the bow of their home cities is to bring up L.A. – or have it brought up for them. It’s no accident that in his statement Richardson doesn’t completely rule out the possibility of leaving. He leaves that door unlocked, by simply saying that it’s his desire to stay.
It’s not a coincidence that the Panthers are about to unfurl plans for a stadium renovation, and politicians in North Carolina have indicated that they’d be willing to help pay for them. What better way to firm up those commitments than to raise the possibility of a relocation to L.A.? That worked for Indianapolis, Seattle, New Orleans and others.
On top of that, Richardson is close friends with Patrick Soon-Shiong, the L.A. billionaire who is interested in buying AEG and being an owner of an NFL team playing in a downtown stadium. He has been Richardson’s guest at at least one Panthers game this season.
So it’s not inconceivable for Soon-Shiong, who needs Richardson to pave the way for him with the NFL, to do the Panthers owner a solid by nudging an L.A. politician to gin up interest in Carolina’s team, even if there are other franchises far more likely to relocate.
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