Bank of America Stadium concerts giving business boost to Charlotte tourism sector

Encore! That’s the cry from uptown hotels and other local tourism executives after Bank of America Stadium in uptown Charlotte staged eight major concerts during a one-year period beginning in September 2021 and extending through Elton John’s appearance last month. The results: Uptown hotel sales went up 40% on those nights while rates surged 26% compared with six-month averages.

Such increases are more impressive when viewed in the context of surging growth in leisure travel in Charlotte during the past several years. Leisure travel hotel revenue here is forecast to grow 28.8% this year over 2019, the most recent full non-pandemic year, according to industry analyst Kalibri Labs. That’s double the 14% leisure gain anticipated nationwide by the end of 2022.

Concerts and anything else that boosts leisure travel has become even more important for Charlotte and other cities because corporate travel has yet to fully recover. Corporate travel for decades dominated hospitality business here, but that has shifted.

“Venues are our beach and venues are our mountains,” Greater Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Alliance CEO Mohammad Jenatian told CBJ, pointing to the importance of the NFL stadium and NBA arena to lure travelers. “Every concert at Bank of America Stadium has been a major driver for our hotels.”

Postponements and delays caused by Covid-19 led to some of the compressed concert dates, but the overriding factor was a vow by stadium owner Tepper Sports & Entertainment in 2019 to make Charlotte a regular stadium-tour stop.

Tepper Sports, founded by David Tepper, acquired the stadium as part of Tepper’s $2.275 billion purchase of the NFL Carolina Panthers in July 2018. BofA Stadium opened in 1996. Panthers Founder Jerry Richardson developed and owned the stadium and limited outside events. Between 1996 and 2018, BofA Stadium had two concerts.

The eight concerts at BofA Stadium during the 12-month span beginning in September 2021 generated a gain of 40% in uptown hotel room sales above the six-month average, demand that, in turn, boosted room rates by 26%, according to data from tracking firm STR and analysis by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

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There are 6,200 hotel rooms in uptown and 31,000 in Mecklenburg County — with more on the way.

During the last six months, uptown hotels have sold 65.4% of their rooms at an average rate of $201.46, according to STR data. Occupancy grew to 75% to 97% with average room rates of $200 to $280 on BofA Stadium concert nights across uptown, according to the same data. Countywide, on those same nights, occupancy grew by 15.5% with an average rate spike of 13.6%, STR data and visitors authority analysis show.

Average attendance for the eight concerts was 45,000, according to Tepper Sports.

“It has been excellent for the city,” Grand Bohemian Hotel Charlotte GM Hugh Templeman told CBJ, referring to the recent concert blitz. “Both for occupancy and utilization.” Templeman added that the hotel’s Starbucks, restaurant and rooftop bar all saw healthy sales gains around the concert dates.

Visitors authority CEO Tom Murray said Tepper Sports’ commitment to concerts combined with Charlotte’s increasing attractiveness as a place for people to spend a weekend eating and shopping and going to events have been key factors in the area’s tourism growth.

“I think the concerts have a different customer base” than NFL and MLS games, Murray said. Roughly half of attendees at the stadium concerts over the past year came from out of town, he added, citing visitors authority estimates. For concerts at Spectrum Center, Ovens Auditorium and Bojangles Coliseum, out-of-town attendees typically account for 30% of the crowd, by comparison.

Jenatian, the tourism alliance executive, said uptown hotel general managers told him that for some of the stadium concerts, room rates went as high as $700 with two-night minimums.

“The impact has been tremendous, and it demonstrates the value of the investment our industry made in the stadium,” he added, referring to hospitality executives’ support for an agreement in 2013 that steered $75 million from existing tourism tax revenue to the Panthers to pay for stadium renovations.

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The Panthers, then still owned by Richardson, spent $102 million on stadium improvements between 2014 and 2018, the five-year period when the city-funded upgrades were done.

Tepper spent $50 million on stadium improvements completed earlier this year, additions and enhancements needed for the debut of his new Major League Soccer team, Charlotte FC. Speculation continues to swirl about what Tepper will ultimately do with BofA Stadium: undertake a large-scale makeover like the NFL Miami Dolphins’ $500 million facelift or build a new one (likely price tag: $2 billion). He has said consistently that there will have to be community buy-in, meaning Tepper expects taxpayer funding of some kind.

A Tepper Sports spokesperson told CBJ that the company intends to continue to pursue concerts when the stadium is available, with priority going to the NFL and MLS teams. The only future concert booking at present is Luke Combs, who will perform at BofA Stadium next summer.

Last year, Tepper Sports replaced the stadium’s natural grass field with artificial turf, providing more durability with the arrival of Charlotte FC while allowing for faster conversions between sporting events and concerts as needed.

One reason the stadium hosted few concerts and other non-Panthers events during Richardson’s ownership tenure was because the football field was at higher risk of being damaged because of the natural grass surface.

Between concerts and adding MLS, Tepper Sports has nearly tripled the number of annual events at BofA Stadium. In 2022, there will be 39 events held there, including the NFL Panthers, concerts, college football games and 18 Charlotte FC matches. The latter includes an exhibition in July against Premier League team Chelsea that attracted 52,673 fans, bringing more out-of-town attendees because of interest in Chelsea.

Charlotte FC finished second in the 28-team MLS for home attendance in its debut season with an average of 35,244 fans per game in 17 home matches.

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Grant Lyman, president of Live Nation Entertainment Inc.’s (NYSE: LYV) Southeast division, said the company has promoted three shows at BofA Stadium this year: Billy Joel, Def Leppard/Mötley Crüe and Red Hot Chili Peppers. All three “were major successes,” Lyman told CBJ.

Live Nation owns and operates several concert venues here, including The Fillmore Charlotte and Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre near uptown, and PNC Music Pavilion in University City.

“Live Nation now has a full venue vertical for artists to grow in Charlotte — from our network of clubs and theaters to our amphitheaters, up to arenas and now Bank of America Stadium,” he added. “It cements Charlotte’s position as an entertainment destination and as a major stadium show market.”

James LaBar, senior vice president of economic development at Charlotte Center City Partners, said the benefits from concerts and other stadium events extend beyond hotel gains. LaBar told CBJ that 10 of the 11 busiest days for uptown visits overall this year through September came on days of concerts or games. Those crowds spill over into bars, restaurants and other uptown businesses.

On July 15 and 16, the two days when Garth Brooks performed at the stadium, 186,000 people and 215,000 people, respectively, spent time in uptown, according to Center City Partners analysis of data from Placer.ai. The concert was not entirely responsible for those gains, LaBar added, but the correlation of increases with concerts and other events shows clear trend “and really changes the dynamic on weekdays.”

Tepper Sports likes the diversity of audiences attracted by having a mix of events, including concerts, MLS, NF, and college football. A spokesperson noted the stadium is being used more for community events, too, including early voting in 2020 and again this year as well as for Covid-19 vaccine clinics.

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