Jerry Richardson, the founding owner of the Carolina Panthers, has agreed to sell the team to David A. Tepper, a billionaire hedge fund owner, for a record-setting amount of at least US$2.2 billion.
The sale price was confirmed by two people with knowledge of the deal.
The sale, which must be approved by at least three-quarters of the NFL’s owners, comes five months after Richardson said that he would sell the team. The announcement came shortly after an article in Sports Illustrated linked him to allegations of sexual harassment. The NFL continues to investigate those allegations.
The owners could vote on Tepper’s application as early as next week when they meet in Atlanta.
Richardson initially sought at least US$3 billion for his team, but trimmed his expectations when no potential buyers emerged at that price. At least one potential buyer, Michael Rubin, the founder of the online sports merchandise retailer Fanatics, dropped out of the process when he was told he would have to pay substantially more than US$2.5 billion for the team, according to two people with knowledge of the process.
Another bidder, Ben Navarro, who owns a financial investment group, was unable to raise the estimated US$2.6 billion he was said to have offered. Questions were also being raised about his holdings in companies that offer credit cards to low-income consumers.
Tepper offered several hundred million dollars less than Navarro, but was favoured by more owners because of his substantial wealth, estimated at US$11 billion, and because he was vetted when he became a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tepper will have to sell his stake in the Steelers as part of his deal to purchase the Panthers.
“If he’s good enough for Art Rooney, he’s good enough for me,” one owner said, referring to the owner of the Steelers.
Tepper, who has already submitted much of the required paperwork to the league, is unlikely to face much opposition when the NFL owners on the finance committee review his application before sending it to the full ownership to vote on.
The sale of the Panthers is being widely watched in the league because the final price will become a benchmark for other team sales. Sports bankers said the Denver Broncos, the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans could change hands in the next few years. The patriarch of each of those teams has died in recent years or is in failing health. Rubin could re-emerge as a bidder for one of those teams.
The proposed sale price will set a record for the highest-priced sale for any North American team, and will be nearly US$1 billion more than the price for the Buffalo Bills, the last NFL team that changed hands when it sold for a then-record US$1.4 billion in 2014. While two NBA teams in recent years have sold for far more than expected, the sale of the Panthers was in line with the US$2.3 billion valuation assigned to the team by Forbes.
In the near term, the team will stay in Charlotte, N.C., a fast-growing city and a healthy market for the NFL. But there are likely to be few restrictions to prevent a buyer from moving the team. The team owns the stadium and the city has spent tens of millions of dollars on renovations. The team must play there through June 2019, or pay a penalty to break the agreement.
If the Panthers leave after that date, the city could buy the stadium for US$1, or the team could pay the remaining debt on the city’s investment.