This weekend, the AFCA Convention began in Charlotte, North Carolina! Not familiar with it? It stands for American Football Coaches Association, and basically every school in America comes (plus some international). Everyone from high school to major Power 5 programs… While it’s meant for vendors and speakers, it’s really just a giant social event. Last year it was in Nashville, Tennessee and it was an absolute blast! So I packed up my bags and headed to Charlotte for a few days!
Last year at the Pro Bowl, I met a sweet girl named Alex who worked for the Carolina Panthers. She was working on NFL events in the same area as me, and we kind of just clicked. It was great to have someone to hang with during the Pro Bowl week and chat with! Afterwards, she was nice enough to send my team a thank you note with a Panthers shirt and Yeti (which, despite being a Falcons fan, I use all the time!).
So being that I have never been to Charlotte before, Alex was the first person I called. I figured it was best to ask a local for suggestions to do when I wasn’t at the convention! She took me out Saturday night with some girl friends to a restaurant called Kid Cashew and then out for a beer at Alexander Michael’s. If you’re ever in Charlotte and you’re looking for a good meal… the mac & cheese at Kid Cashew was the best mac & cheese I think I’ve ever had (and that’s saying a lot, since mac & cheese is basically a food group for me).
It’s always nice to have friends that share your interests. Alex loves seeing stadiums and her goal is to see all the NFL stadiums (she’s got a nice jump on that goal, too. It was awesome to hear about all the stadiums she’s visited). We mutually agreed upon the fact that we’d rather tour stadiums than museums. So she was nice enough to give me a private tour of Bank of America Stadium!
We started off in Alex’s office – she works in Hospitality and Fan Engagement, which is housed in the ticket office. So I got a little inside look at the Panther’s ticket headquarters! They’re in the process of moving, so Alex says excuse the mess (we won’t judge, right? I mean my office has looked worse before…):
From the ticket office, we headed to the main concourse. Main concourses aren’t usually much to see – lots of places to get food (so maybe I’m wrong, that’s my favorite part), usually lots of gear shops, and whatnot. But what I really liked about the Panthers’ main concourse was their timeline! For those of you who don’t know, the Panthers were awarded their franchise in 1993, so they’re fairly new compared to other NFL franchises. So while their timeline isn’t very long, it was really impressive and a great way for me to learn a little more about their history!
We also took a peep out onto the field from the main concourse. Most recently, Bank of America stadium hosted the Belk Bowl with Texas A&M and Wake Forest, so the end zones actually still have their team names in them and not the Panthers’ usual end zone images. Alex also mentioned that their video boards are the second largest outdoor boards in the NFL, just behind Jacksonville. I’m obsessed with blue, so you already know I loved this stadium!
Next stop was the suite level! Turns out, Alex’s boss had a hand in revamping this floor. In my opinion, she did a fantastic job! I absolutely loved the layout and the colors. I could live here if they’d let me!
The first club we saw was the South Club lounge. The painting below of the North Carolina and South Carolina flags was actually my favorite part of Alex’s tour. I never even thought about it, but it turns out that even though the Panthers are in North Carolina, the team is for both states. Alex told me that their owner and founder, Jerry Richardson, is actually from Spartanburg, SC and played college football at Wofford. So he has more ties to South Carolina than North Carolina. But I thought it was really cool to know that the team is meant for both states, not just one! I really liked that outlook.
Next was the Red Zone Lounge. Every corner of the stadium has a Lounge, and they all have different names and a different feel to them. They’ve all recently been redone, so Alex was saying they used to have more of a literal look to their name, but now they’ve been redone to match each other more. Either way, I still think they turned out gorgeous! I would’ve loved to see them before they were redone, too. Each area also has a unique hospitality seating to it, and that’s part of Alex’s job also! We decided to stay inside and save our energy for going out onto the field. It was freezing! But still a gorgeous day. So I tried to take the best picture I could from the inside.
The Panthers also displayed some old photographs of owner Jerry Richardson’s playing days at Wofford, which I thought was very unique! To me, it gives a lot of life to Jerry Richardson that not everyone gets to see. Oh, and that handsome man in the first picture below? That’s my future hubby, Christian McCaffrey. He just doesn’t know it yet!
The Panthers Den Lounge was really cool because it had a view of the city line! This would definitely be a nice place to enjoy a beer during half time. And then of course, last up was the Locker Room Lounge.
Alex took me up to the press box after the suites. Obviously, no matter what stadium you’re in, you’re going to have an amazing view from the press box! But I particularly love press boxes that are set up like the Panthers’. The Cowboys set theirs up this way, too. It’s very open and inclusive. If you take a look back at my Sugar Bowl Week, you’ll see that the Saints’ press box is a lot more narrow and closed-off. Personally, I would enjoy the openness of this press box a lot more than the Saints’! I just feel like there’s room for a lot more interaction! But, press box food is always the best no matter where you go, so I’d be a happy camper anyway.
Oh, and I also have a funny story about the mannequins from Alex (hopefully she doesn’t mind me sharing!) So these windows were her project whenever the press box was revamped. She said that the person who gave her the dimensions of the window boxes didn’t include the black platform at the bottom. So when she got the mannequins… they didn’t fit. So Alex’s solution? She said she had to handsaw off the heads to get them to fit. She also said she’ll never take on a project like that again!
Last, but not least, we made our way down to the field. If you’ve ever wondered what the field level of NFL stadiums look like… here it is – just a bunch of concrete and cinderblocks. Nothing fancy! It’s also a giant wind tunnel whenever the field doors are open. Whenever I was working the Cotton Bowl in college, a chip in my phone actually cracked because it was so cold down on field level! So if you ever get invited down to one in the winter… make sure you remember gloves!
We walked through the players’ entry tunnel first and by their locker room. It would’ve been cool to go inside, but girls don’t have keys to the locker room so Alex couldn’t take me in. Not that that mattered at all – it was still a blast!
And then… the lovely field! My favorite part!
This was my best attempt at a picture of the Texas A&M end zone for my never-ending number of Aggie relatives.
Well… that’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed a look inside my tour of Bank of America Stadium! I hate to say it, but this might actually be on the top of my favorites list. It was absolutely beautiful! Check in at the end of the week to get a look inside the AFCA Coaching Convention, and some tips on how to seek out jobs in sports in my Careers section!