Jerry Richardson, who brought the Carolina Panthers to Charlotte as an NFL expansion franchise, announced plansSunday night to sell the team hours after a blockbuster report by Sports Illustrated detailed payouts to former Panthers employees for inappropriate workplace conduct by Richardson.
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers will likely have a new owner in place ahead of the 2018 season. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
“I believe that it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership,'' wrote Richardson in the letter published on the team’s website. “Therefore, I will put the team up for sale at the conclusion of this NFL season. We will not begin the sale process, nor will we entertain any inquiries, until the very last game is played.''
Richardson paid $140 million for the rights to the Panthers in 1993 and agreed to forego more than $60 million in national TV money as the price for entering the league, bringing the total cost for Richardson and his partners to $206 million. Richardson and his family currently won 49% of the team.
Speculation immediately turned to who would take the reins of the Panthers. Musician and entrepreneur Diddy threw his hat in the ring on Twitter. NBA All-Star and North Carolina native Stephen Curry, who is a hardcore Panthers fan, said: “I want in!”
Diddy's net worth is estimated to be $820 million by Forbesso he will require more than just Curry's help if he wants to buy the Panthers and he has little shot in being the one who calls the shots for the team. Forbes valued the Panthers at $2.3 billion in September. The NFL has altered its ownership rules in recent years, but a single incoming owner must still control at least 30% of the equity of the team to satisfy league rules and debt limits are capped at $250 million. That means one person must write a check for a minimum of $600 million if they want to be the controlling owner.
Here are a dozen potential buyers for the Panthers, with dark horse candidates likely to emerge.
There is no word on what Richardson's limited partners in the Panthers will do, but several of them have substantial assets at their disposal.
Belk Family: They own roughly 5% of the team. The South's first family of retail sold its department store chain in 2015 for roughly $2.7 billion, ending a 127-year corporate dynasty.
Levine Family: The family owns around 10% of the team. Leon Levine founded Family Dollar in 1959 and the Levines ran the company, headquartered in the Charlotte suburbs, until its sale to Dollar Tree in 2015 for $9.1 billion. The Levines are major philanthropists in North Carolina.
Steve and Jerry Wordsworth: The Wordsworths are the biggest minority shareholders of the team with an estimated 16%. The family is North Carolina royalty. They sold Meadowbrook Meat Company to Berkshire Hathaway's McLane Company in 2012.
Other North Carolina Locals
Bruton Smith: The founder and chairman of Speedway Motorsports is one of the most common names associated with buying the Panthers due to his experience in sports. SMI manages eight Nascar tracks. His fortune was valued by Forbes at $1 billion in March but the value of Smith's Sonic Automotive car dealerships are down since then. Another red flag: Smith is also 90 years old.
James Goodnight: The co-founder of analytics software firm SAS is North Carolina's richest resident at $9.9 billion. The 74-year-old still runs the company and could write the check for the Panthers easier than anyone else from North Carolina.
John Sall: Sall co-founded SAS with Goodnight and ranks as North Carolina's second richest resident. The pair own a country club and hotel together.
Michael Jordan: MJ is worth an estimated $1.4 billion, with roughly $600 million of his net worth tied up in his 90% stake in the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan took control of the Hornets with $25 million in cash while absorbing $150 million in debt and agreeing to fund future losses. Control of the Panthers will require a much bigger check. Jordan recently participated in the $1.2 billion Miami Marlins purchase, taking a stake estimated to be less than 1%.
Joe Gibbs: The Hall of Fame football coach is a local and well-liked, but doesn't have the funds to headline a bid. He is also 77 years old and still busy with his Nascar squad.
Only four NFL teams have sold in the past decade so any team up for sale, no matter the location, is likely to draw interest from anyone interested in sports ownership and sitting on a pile of cash like Diddy. Here are four more potential suitors.
Mark Cuban: The Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank investor is worth $3.3 billion and is a dream owner for his passion and willingness to spend on players. Cuban would face resistance for multiple reasons. Three years ago he blasted the NFL saying “pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And [it’s] getting hoggy.”
Cuban would almost certainly have to sell the Mavericks to buy the Panthers if owners even allowed him into their club. Cross-ownership rules are in place where you cannot own an NFL franchise if you own a major sports team in another market with an NFL franchise. The NFL bent the rules for Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke with allowing him to transfer the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche into a trust. Don't expect any favors for Cuban, who has vowed to continue owning the Mavs.
Jeff Bezos: The Amazon founder is now the richest person on the planet at $99.8 billion as of Monday morning. Bezos has not expressed interest in buying a pro sports team but could certainly afford it and has made outside the box investments like his purchase of the Washington Post. Bezos could be an invaluable resource to the NFL as it sorts out its future streaming options for its games.
David Tepper: The hedge fund titan owns a 5% stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tepper, 60, would have no trouble funding a purchase, with significant cash holdings as part of his $11 billion net worth.
Jon Bon Jovi: The rocker couldn't afford the Panthers on his own, but Bon Jovi and his partners were the runners-up in the 2014 sale of the Buffalo Bills for $1.4 billion to Terry and Kim Pegula. Bon Jovi's group bid $1.05 billion for the Bills, which are the NFL's least valuable team.
Billionaire NFL Fan: There were 565 billionaires in the U.S. as of March with roughly 1,500 more located outside the U.S. The NFL might have its problems but there are still likely dozens of billionaires itching to be an NFL owner. Don't be surprised if a billionaire comes out of the woodwork to be the new majority owner of the Panthers.