Falcons owner Arthur Blank doesn’t see the Panthers leaving Charlotte. Here’s why

Falcons owner Arthur Blank doesn’t see the Panthers leaving Charlotte. Here’s why

CHARLOTTE, NC (Joseph Person/The Charlotte Observer) - Echoing the sentiments of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft earlier this week, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said he couldn't envision a scenario in which the next owner would want to move the Carolina Panthers out of Charlotte.

Blank called Charlotte one of the league's "premier markets," citing the city's growth and the Panthers' strong fan base and on-field product.

"No. 1, it's a great city. No. 2, I think it's great for the NFL. The fans are fabulous. Not only fabulous in Charlotte, but they travel. We see them in Atlanta, probably more than we want to see," Blank said Friday during an interview with the Observer.

"It's a growth city. And just looking at it – forget about who the owner may be, he or she in the future – it's one of the premier markets, I think, in the NFL."

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced in December he was selling the team, hours after an explosive Sports Illustrated article detailed allegations of sexual and racial misconduct by Richardson.

The NFL hired independent investigator Mary Jo White to lead its probe of Richardson, who relinquished day-to-day control of the team to chief operating officer Tina Becker in December.

The Panthers have been receiving bids from prospective buyers, including a local group led by Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates. Sean Combs, the hip-hop icon known as P. Diddy, has expressed interest in buying the Panthers.

Ben Navarro, Sherman Financial Group CEO, and hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones have been mentioned among those who have shown interest in purchasing an available team.

Blank believes whoever buys the team will be leaving it where it is.

"They've got a great track record on the field and it's been uniquely involved in the community in a lot of different ways as well," Blank said. "I can't believe any new owner would not see all those assets and not want to keep the franchise there.

"I don't know why anybody would ever consider wanting to move it – not that the ownership would approve it being moved. In my opinion, it would be very, very, very, very doubtful."

Blank, the Home Depot co-founder who bought the Falcons in 2001, also spoke highly of Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers' home since 1996.

"I think it's a great stadium, an open-air stadium. It's in a good part of town. It's downtown, it's accessible. They've fixed it up a good bit," he said. "It's not brand new, but they continue to reinvest back into the stadium (with) a lot of number of amenities and club seats and scoreboards."

Blank said he was shocked and disappointed in the allegations against Richardson, who made "significant" financial settlements to at least four former employees who accused him of workplace misconduct, according to SI.

"Probably like everybody else, I was very disappointed in the allegations and saddened for Jerry and his family, and obviously even more so to the extent of the victims involved," Blank said. "The people that were put in conditions and situations that were difficult, I'm saddened for them as well."

Blank settled a sex discrimination lawsuit brought by a former Falcons human resources director in 2003, months after Blank vowed to "fight" and "destroy" the suit, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Blank said he hasn't spoken to Richardson since the allegations surfaced, but he praised Richardson's work for the league.

"I was shocked. I've only known Jerry as an owner. He and I have always had a good relationship. He gave me some pretty good counsel in the early days when I came into the league," Blank said. "He's worked his fanny off for the National Football League I know forever, it seems, to support the league in a general sense."