Charlotte Paper Gears Up for Panthers Super Bowl Visit

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By: Joe Strupp

While its newspaper counterparts in New England are experienced in covering championship teams, The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer is in uncharted territory when it comes to staffing a local team’s rise to the Super Bowl.

So with its hometown Carolina Panthers off to Houston to face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII next week, the Observer (Click for QuikCap) is going all out with what it claims is the most expensive event coverage in the paper’s 118-year history.

“In terms of travel, this is the biggest event we have ever covered — nothing even comes close,” says Pete Ridder, Observer publisher and chairman. “It is bigger than a political convention and it is more than just one day.”

With 20 editorial staffers — including nine of the paper’s 15 sportswriters and six photographers — headed to Texas for the festivities, the paper estimates a cost of about $40,000 for all the reporting, which will include five days of special sections starting the Wednesday before the Feb. 1 game and ending the day after. In addition, a commemorative 30-page recap tab will run days after the game.

“We may never see this again,” says Mike Persinger, the paper’s sports editor since 2000. “You want to make sure you take your best shot.”

Ridder is quick to point out that the coverage will likely mean an advertising bonanza for the paper, claiming the daily publication has already seen about $250,000 in new advertising directly tied to Super Bowl.

“The advertising will more than cover our expenses,” says Ridder, who adds that single-copy sales have already seen a boost from the football frenzy. For example, last Monday, the day after the Panthers beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship, the paper sold about 5,000 more copies than usual at newsstands, which usually account for about 25,000 daily sales, Ridder says.

Both The Boston Globe (Click for QuikCap) and the Boston Herald (Click for QuikCap) — the largest New England area newspapers — plan to send about the same number of people as the Observer, but draw from bigger sports staffs. The Globe, for instance, has 25 sportswriters on its payroll, with a circulation that runs nearly twice that of Charlotte’s.

Although the 226,000-daily-circulation Observer regularly covers local Atlantic Coast Conference college basketball, auto racing and minor league baseball, it has had limited reporting on the four major professional sports. Prior to the Panthers arrival as an NFL expansion team in 1995, the only other major franchise was the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA, who never won a title and relocated to New Orleans in 2002.

Even though the Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League made the Stanley Cup finals in 2002, their home is in Raleigh, some 300 miles away. Such a distance prompted the Observer to send just one reporter to cover the failed Stanley Cup bid. The biggest local sports events that have not been tied to a nearby team, editors said, have included the NCAA Men’s Final Four in 1994 and the U.S. Open golf championship in 1999. Still, neither commanded the staffing or costs that the Super Bowl is prompting.

“I think this number is about right,” Persinger says of the plans, which will include borrowing three reporters from the metro staff and two features writers. “Needles to say, it is in excess of our regular travel budget.”

The Observer has had a short, but close relationship with the Panthers during the team’s nine seasons, Ridder says. In addition to owning a luxury box at Bank of America Stadium, located across the street from the Observer offices, the paper’s lot is also used for extra parking during home games.

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