As Mr. Muhleman and his clients, Hardee's franchisee and hopeful NFL team owner Jerry Richardson and his sports business-savvy son, Mark, were being led into a room to learn their fate, Chicago Bears owner Ed McCaskey bumped into them.
Mr. McCaskey tried to conceal a knowing smile and then told the 55-year-old Mr. Muhleman, "Son, if ever I needed someone to talk to my doctors, I want you to do it."
Soon after, a standing ovation from a roomful of beaming NFL team owners confirmed the long, anxiety-ridden, roller-coaster ride had ended. The darkhorse candidate, the Carolina Panthers, became the NFL's 29th team, a feat accomplished through a $6 million marketing campaign engineered by Muhleman Marketing.
Mr. Muhleman credits his franchise building knowhow to experience gained during his stint in the early '70s as the marketing arm of the old World Hockey League.
"It gave me a lot of perspective of how sports leagues work, think and operate," he says.
To snare the National Football League, Mr. Muhleman proved the Carolinas could support a pro football team by organizing three sold-out preseason games over three years.
But the real key was an innovative plan to build a stadium-the selling of permanent seating licenses that guaranteed the holder a lifetime's right to purchase season tickets for that seat.
The plan worked, generating $100 million and bringing the NFL to the Carolinas.