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.’’