After Jerry Richardson unexpectedly announced Sunday that he is selling the Carolina Panthers, a number of fans have spoken up wondering if it’d be possible for them to pool their funds to buy the team.
Several people even started Go Fund Me accounts to put together a bid. Others suggested that fans get together and push for a non-profit ownership group like the Green Bay Packers have.
In case you’re unfamiliar with some of the more obscure NFL bylaws, that type of public ownership group isn’t allowed anymore.
Today, an NFL team can be owned by up to 25 individuals, one of whom must own at least 30 percent and have full operating control of the team, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “The Packers ownership structure is a vestige of an earlier time. It’s a grandfathered structure adopted more than half a century ago to save the Packers,” McCarthy said.
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On Monday, the Panthers announced that Richardson, the 81-year-old owner responsible for bringing the NFL to the Carolinas in 1993, is stepping aside from the team’s day-to-day operations, effective immediately, following an explosive Sports Illustrated report alleging workplace misconduct by Richardson.
Fans seem to have lost their collective minds over the prospect of new ownership possibly moving the team out of Charlotte – an unlikely scenario, experts say, but a possible one nonetheless.
“This (fan ownership) is very wishful thinking. It’s an emotional response from these fans, rather than a practical one,” said David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Marshall Sports Business Institute. “They might be hoping for some sort of a Christmas miracle at this point.”
Former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle had it written into the league’s constitution in 1960 that “charitable organizations and/or corporations not organized for profit and not now a member of the league may not hold membership in the NFL,” the New Yorker noted in a 2011 report.
“(The Packers model) is impractical in today's world given the economic realities required to sustainably operate as a successful franchise. Our policy requires club owners with financial resources and management accountability,” McCarthy said.
In reality, Packers fan-owners have little power. A 2011 Deadspin story described the Green Bay ownership model as a “feel-good scam.” They can affect no significant change, and their shares do not pay out dividends. The price of the stock does not go up or down, nor can it be sold.
The Packers’ issuance of stock has been used in the past to pay for stadium renovations. In Charlotte, the city has helped fund renovations at Bank of America Stadium.
In that sense, the community ownership model makes fans feel like they are part of the organization. Fans can vote with their feet and their remote controls – meaning they can opt not to attend or watch games – but actual ownership is out of the question for most people.
“Whenever a franchise is for sale, there are always a lot of people hoping to be part of that discussion, even though it’s highly unlikely they will be in the mix, either due to finances or due to politics, the culture of the league,” Carter said.
This fall, Forbes estimated that the Panthers had a net worth of $2.3 billion. Experts say it could be months before the NFL makes a decision about the Panthers’ new ownership.
Richardson will have a say in who that is, said Carter, the USC professor. Given Richardson’s long career and relationships in the league, he might be given a bit more deference than other owners, Carter said. But ultimately, it will be the other owners who vote on new ownership.
The names of several possible owners have emerged since Richardson announced his intent to sell the team. Some of those include the Panthers’ minority owners (including some of Charlotte’s best-known and wealthiest people such as Smoky Bissell and Johnny Harris), hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, NASCAR magnate Bruton Smith and Hornets owner Michael Jordan.