The franchise doesn't deserve decent fans. You have to at least pretend to try to build a winner.
It's easy to like a team when their winning.
It's easy to cheer on the Patriots or Giants after a SuperBowl run or two! Try cheering on the Raiders or Browns or the Bills for that matter. I have seen some pretty hardcore Buffalo Bills fans for an organization that gives little back in return.
IMO, it isn't winning that creates fans as much as people looking at a football game as more than "something to do" on a Sunday afternoon but something that defines you and your community. When your passion for your team is that deep, you look at a game a bit differently.
The fact is, Charlotte is a "newer" city filled with mostly transplants. The majority of people don't live and breath Charlotte because the majority of people moved to Charlotte from other cities. Just look at the crowd during the Giants game!!! Those people didn't all drive from New York. They were mostly just New Yorkers living in Charlotte.
In time, as its population grows, people who call Charlotte home will begin to have a burning passion for everything Charlotte, but right now... a Panthers game is more or less the "hip thing to do" on Sundays. The majority of people go because everybody else they know is going. They simply go to be seen and mingle among friends, but the game itself is of little importance and the last reason why they are there.
Sure, most newer teams in any sport, especially transplant cities, struggle to gain passionate fans early on. If you can find a way to win, people will jump on the bandwagon because anybody will cheer for a winner. Now, if you love something even when it's struggling, you'll be there and that's the difference between bandwagon fans and real fans.
It's almost like people who believe parents who seem disappointed when their children don't try hard enough and get a B- instead of an A, are somehow "bad" parents. It's a stretch to define "bad" but both certainly love their children and want the best out of them.
What bothers me is that since Charlotte has "newer" football fans, they tend to question what makes a fan and fail to understand that you can complain and whine and argue over the direction the franchise is going in and still be a fan. Look, Steelers fans argue when Pittsburgh struggles but they are still fans of Pittsburgh and still love their Steelers. In fact, I'd argue that the demands of Steeler fans has put higher exceptions on their franchise and made the team better.
As far as me, I live in Richmond (although I plan to move to Charlotte in a year or two and have always loved it there) and drove 5 hours for the Seattle game. I didn't pack well, wore shorts, a short sleeved Cam jersey, and was shivering the whole game. Still, IMO, $100 in gas, $300 on a hotel, $300 in tickets, food, drinks, freezing to death to the last play, etc.... makes me a pretty dedicated fan even if Cam and Ron irate me and I choose to voice my onion at times.