NFC South: Personal Seat Licenses

On the night of April 28, Phil Youtsey stood in the outer concourse of Bank of America Stadium, overlooking a crowd of about 10,000 fans watching the NFL draft on a huge screen.

I spotted Youtsey moments before the Panthers made the No. 1 overall pick and looked back up at him at the precise moment it was announced to the crowd that Carolina had taken Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

Youtsey was leaning forward against a wall and his position and expression were the same at both moments. This is a guy you wouldn’t want to sit across a poker table from because there wasn’t the slightest visible reaction from a man who just had two aces put in his pocket.

Youtsey is Carolina’s director of ticket sales and, even these days, he’s still trying to conceal his hand a little bit.

“The interest in the team is high right now,’’ Youtsey said. “We’ve been getting a lot of interest in our PSL’s [Personal Seat Licenses] and the interest our group sales people have been getting is very strong. PSL’s are like season tickets times 100 because of the investment you’re making, but we’ve seen a different increase in interest this offseason.’’

PSL’s give holders the right to buy season tickets on a continuous basis and they’re the main reason Bank of America Stadium was built without any taxpayer money. Youtsey didn’t want to go into specific numbers on PSL’s or group sales, and single-game tickets generally don’t go on sale until the summer.

Youtsey doesn’t work on the football side and he repeatedly kept talking about interest in “the team," how fans view new coach Ron Rivera as a likable guy and the team is marketing aggressively. But, come on, doesn’t drafting Newton have a pretty major impact on whatever renewed interest there is in a team that went 2-14 last season?

When I put it like that, Youtsey finally dropped his guard a bit.

“Well, it’s kind of inevitable,’’ Youtsey said. “With all the interest leading into the draft, interest is piqued. You have the No. 1 pick and you’re automatically in the spotlight for a couple of months. When you throw in the fact the guy you drafted is a quarterback, who just won a Heisman Trophy and a national championship … well, that certainly didn’t hurt.’’

Jerry Richardson offers some clues

December, 8, 2010
My friend and former co-worker Scott Fowler has a copy of the letter Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson wrote to fans who hold Personal Seat Licenses.

Glad to see Richardson finally reach out to his fans. It’s long overdue in a season in which the Panthers have totally fallen apart. Richardson doesn’t come out and offer a detailed explanation of where the franchise is going in the future, but he admits the league’s labor uncertainty is an issue. More importantly, he says pretty strongly that he’s committed to spending money and putting a good product on the field in the future. Scott adds his own commentary at appropriate spots throughout the letter and I agree with everything he says.

But I will try to read between the lines a little bit more on Richardson’s letter and offer my thoughts on what it all means.

First off, Richardson, never mentions coach John Fox or his future. He doesn’t have to. Fox is gone from Carolina after this season. That’s been an obvious fact for months. The first news organization that puts out something like "Breaking News: John Fox fired by Panthers’’ will lose all credibility because this isn’t news. Besides, Fox isn’t being truly fired. The Panthers will let him finish his contract, then show him the door.

Richardson offers no hints as to who will replace Fox and I’m sure his comment about being committed to spending and succeeding will stir up the Bill Cowher talk again. I’ve never bought into that before and I’m not falling for it now. I say Richardson hires a rising coordinator, someone youthful and energetic and ready to embrace a building project.

I also say the hiring isn’t totally up to Richardson. He’s got his hands full because he’s more involved in getting the labor deal done for the league than most people realize. I say general manager Marty Hurney stays and spearheads the coaching surge. Yes, Hurney has made plenty of questionable moves, but he’s stayed in Richardson’s good graces.

Richardson’s comment about continuing to build through the draft and keeping core players is a phrase Hurney has uttered publicly a few thousand times through the years. Sounds like the owner and general manager remain on the same page.

Also, don’t underestimate the importance of team president Danny Morrison as this team moves on. Morrison was brought on after Richardson fired his sons and he runs the business side of things. The business side will be important going forward, so Morrison’s going to be heavily involved in this coaching search.

You could argue that Cowher’s name along would sell tickets. But I think Morrison, Richardson and Hurney are looking for more than that. They obviously will be looking for a good coach. But they also will be looking for someone who is willing to come in and do all the little things (speaking engagements, signing autographs and being a face of the team). In some ways, Fox got too big for that kind of thing as time went on.

It’s kind of ironic to say this. But, what the Panthers need is someone like John Fox -- back in 2002.