It’s a fact – when combined – that North Carolina and the state’s largest city of Charlotte have a pretty extensive roster of professional sports teams. Overall, they bring in an impressive amount of revenue (currently estimated at over two billion dollars in total) from local residents and fans throughout the region who often travel to enjoy the sporting events and amenities found in cities like Charlotte and the Raleigh-Durham area.
Here’s a list and some general information on North Carolina’s professional sports teams. Some of the teams have designated LGBTQ community outreach events. All teams have seasonal schedules. Check out their websites and Facebook pages for general full scale event dates and specific LGBTQ-related programs.
The Carolina Panthers proudly compete in the National Football League (NFL). They played in the historic Super Bowl 50 in 2015 against the Denver Broncos, who defeated them 24 to 10. Previously they had played against the New England Patriots in 2003, when they lost Super Bowl 43 to the New England Patriots by just three points. Over the years the team has recorded seven winning seasons, 14 losing seasons and three eight to eight seasons. They have reached the playoffs a total of eight times. The regular season for the NFL has recently ended, but will begin again in September 2022. Of special note, there are two openly gay cheerleaders in the Panthers’ Top Cats cheering team: Tré Booker and Chris Crawford. The two made history in 2021 when they made the decision to live and work out loud and proud.
The Charlotte Hornets pro basketball team has a lengthy history with the Queen City. The original Charlotte Hornets NBA team was based in the city from 1988 to 2002, before it moved to New Orleans. Two years later, the city managed to establish another NBA team, but was not able at the time to recapture the Hornets name and ended up calling the team the Bobcats. As both the Bobcats and the later renamed Hornets, they have experienced some success under the guidance of basketball legend and part owner Michael Jordan. In 2016 when North Carolina passed the anti-LGBTQ House Bill 2, the Hornets boldly released a press announcement denouncing discrimination: The Hornets are opposed to discrimination in any form. We have always sought to provide an inclusive environment.”
The Charlotte Knights is a minor league baseball team that is affiliated with the International League. They’re also a Triple A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Currently they play home games at Truist Field. They previously played at Knights Park beginning in 1976, Knights Castle later in 1989 and Knights Stadium from 1990 to 2014. Previously known as the Charlotte Orioles or just the Charlotte Os, they won the Southern League Championship twice in 1980 and 1984.The Orioles were rebranded as the Knights in 1988, which was later followed by the Triple A and International League affiliation. The Knights have won two International League Championships, the first in 1993 and the second in 1999. A quick glance at their upcoming schedule of events shows multiple away games and a handful of home events in late April. Check out their website for details.
The Charlotte Checkers, a minor league professional ice hockey team, are members of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference in the American Hockey League (AHL). It may come as a surprise, but the city of Charlotte is actually recognized as the birthplace of professional hockey in the south. Back in 1956, the Baltimore Clippers were forced to find a place to play their 12 remaining home games after a fire destroyed their home base. The first game was held at the old Charlotte Coliseum (still located on Independence freeway today) and attracted a crowd of more than 10,000 people. The following season, after record crowds and attendance in the city the year before, the Clippers relocated to Charlotte. By 1960, the Clippers became the Checkers and continued to play home games in the city until 1977 when the team finally folded. After some various wheeling and dealing between league and franchise owners, the reincarnated Charlotte Checkers (the name was chosen as tops in a contest and in historic homage to the former team) returned in 1993. They’ve continued to play in one form or another since that time. Like most sporting teams, they scaled down during the pandemic. Now they’re back, and at the time of this writing, currently playing a game against the Cleveland Monsters.
The Carolina Queens is a women’s professional football team affiliated with the Women’s National Football Conference and/or the Independent Women’s Football League. It is owned by Ebony Kimbrough. Home games have been played on the campus of Hopewell High School, (according to internet sources), although it appears the impact of the pandemic has delayed the next spring opening until 2023. More information will appear in Qnotes as it is made available to the public.
NASCAR Charlotte and the southeast has had a long-term love affair with NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) that began smack-dab in the middle of the 20th century. That’s when the first-ever NASCAR race was held at the then-newly installed Charlotte Speedway. Off Wilkinson Boulevard and Little Rock Road on the city’s far west side, the dirt track was a long way from Charlotte’s center city. Despite the distance, NASCAR’s “Strictly Stock” race, held on June 19, 1949, attracted one of the largest crowds for any event in the city’s history up to that point. An estimated 22,000 individuals showed up, and an additional 5,000 were turned away for lack of seating. These days, NASCAR events take place throughout the country, but the heart of NASCAR continues to beat in the Queen City with a NASCAR History Museum and corporate offices in center city Charlotte, as well as the Charlotte Motor Speedway in the neighboring town of Concord. Upcoming events slated for the Charlotte Motor Speedway include the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals April 29 through May 1; The Coca-Cola 600 May 29; and the NASCAR Cup Series throughout the month of October.
The Carolina Hurricanes (often referred to as “the Canes”) are a professional ice hockey team based in Raleigh. They compete in the National Hockey League as a member of the metropolitan division and the Eastern conference and play their home games at PNC arena. They began Life as the New England Whalers in 1971 and made the move to North Carolina in 1997, rebranding themselves as the Hurricanes. The Canes advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 2002, where they were defeated by the Detroit Red Wings. In an exciting turnabout for fans and the state of North Carolina, the Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup over the Edmonton Oilers, giving the state its first major professional sports championship and its only major championship as of 2021. The latest season began March 29 and continues through April 28.
The North Carolina Courage is a professional women’s soccer team based in Cary, North Carolina. It was founded in 2017 after Stephen Malik acquired National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) franchise rights from the Western New York Flash. The Courage is affiliated with the men’s team North Carolina FC of the United Soccer League and plays its home games at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park. In 2018, the Courage became the first team in NWSL history to win the Shield and the Championship in the same season. In 2019, the team became the first team to win the Championship on its home field. Currently the Courage is in season, but only has one more home game coming up that will be played at the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. Mark your calendars for Saturday, April 23, when the Courage will play the Washington Spirit.
The Charlotte Football Club (CFC) is an American professional soccer team. With regular competition in major league soccer as part of the Eastern Conference, the team is owned by David Tepper, who also owns the Carolina Panthers. Frequently referred to as the “Charlotte FC,” they are currently in season and actively playing games at the Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium. The team holds the distinctive record for standalone match, with nearly 75k spectators present for CFC’s inaugural home game. Upcoming matches in Charlotte are slated for April 10 (Atlanta United), May 7 (Inter Miami) and May 14 (Montreal).
The Durham Bulls are a minor league baseball team of the International League and a Triple A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. They are based in Durham and play their home games at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Originally established in 1902 as the Durham Tobacconists,they disbanded and restarted multiple times over the years. The Bulls became internationally famous following the release of the 1988 movie “Bull Durham,” starring Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. Since 1991 the team has been owned by the Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting Company. This team is active and busy, so visit their website and Facebook page to check out what’s currently going on.