Meet the banker and lawyer helping sell the Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, left, greets owner Jerry Richardson prior to a game against the Oakland Raiders at Bank of America Stadium on December 23, 2012.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, left, greets owner Jerry Richardson prior to a game against the Oakland Raiders at Bank of America Stadium on December 23, 2012. TNS

The New York banking and legal team helping to sell the Carolina Panthers once this season ends have put their stamp on some of the biggest deals in sports.

Steve Greenberg of New York investment bank Allen & Co. has worked with the St. Louis Cardinals, Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Clippers, Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards in recent years, according to the Sports Business Journal. And his firm is known for an annual gathering in Sun Valley, Idaho, that draws the biggest names in business and politics.

Joe Leccese, chairman of New York law firm Proskauer Rose LLP, advised the NBA during the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and assisted on other deals involving teams from the Houston Astros to the Philadelphia Eagles, according to his firm’s web site.

Both figures, who the Panthers said Tuesday will be working with Charlotte lawyer Billy Moore on the sale, regularly top the list of “Power Players” ranked by the Sports Business Journal.

While Allen & Co. might not be the biggest name in banking, the boutique firm does have the right kind of connections to sell a franchise currently valued at $2.3 billion by Forbes magazine, said Ray Groth, a managing director at Charlotte-based private equity firm Axum Capital Partners and former head of mergers and acquisitions for First Union Securities.

“The targeted buyer base isn’t really corporate America,” Groth said. “It’s individual America. Allen & Co. probably has as good a feel as to who those people are as anybody else.”

In 2014, both Allen & Co. and Proskauer Rose played a role in the Buffalo Bills’ sale to Terry and Kim Pegula, the husband-and-wife owners of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, for an NFL-record $1.4 billion. The deal came a little more than five months after the death of the previous owner, Ralph Wilson Jr.

According to Bloomberg News, Allen & Co. recently handled the sale of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, with 49 percent going to Alibaba Group Holding executive Joe Tsai. The value put on the franchise was a league-record $2.3 billion. Tsai has a right to buy the remaining stake in 2021.

Bloomberg also reported that the firm has worked with the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team in Raleigh, which recently sold a majority stake to a Texas businessman.

Some Charlotte bankers said the Allen & Co. hire was a good move because the firm likely has fewer conflicts of interest with potential buyers than larger banks, which could still become involved in financing any deals. One of the team’s former minority owners, the late Donald Keough, also was a former Allen & Co. chairman.

But others questioned why the Panthers did not hire the well-respected sports investment banking team at Bank of America, which has had a long relationship with owner Jerry Richardson and played a key role in the financing of the team’s home field, known as Bank of America stadium since 2004.

The Panthers have not commented beyond Tuesday’s statement. Greenberg, the son of Baseball Hall of Fame player Hank Greenberg, and Lecesse also have not commented.

Richardson, 81, announced last month that he would sell the team at the end of the season following a Sports Illustrated report alleging workplace misconduct by the Panthers owner. The team has a first-round playoff game Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

Speculation about potential buyers for the Panthers have ranged from local auto racing tycoon Bruton Smith and his family to hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs. The Observer reported last month that a group of investors committed to keeping the Panthers in Charlotte is “moving pretty fast” to purchase the team.

In the end, Richardson, who took pride in bringing an NFL expansion franchise to the Carolinas, will have a strong interest in finding the right buyer, regardless of the dollar figures involved, said Groth, of Axum Capital Partners.

“This is his legacy,” Groth said. “How the sale is handled is the closing chapter.”

Rick Rothacker: 704-358-5170, @rickrothacker