If you haven't heard, the new Carolina Panthers owner has A LOT of money. It's how David Tepper has most often been identified lately — not as hedge fund manager David Tepper or just plain David Tepper, but "billionaire David Tepper." That's with a "B" — which means there are at least nine zeroes in his net worth. Now, he's about to be the next owner of our city's NFL team. And we're about to get too worked up over that B.
Someday, probably sooner than later, the Panthers and Tepper will come calling to the City of Charlotte, wanting some public assistance. Maybe they'll ask for more money to modernize Bank of America Stadium, similar to the $87.5 million in updates the team and city agreed to five years ago. Maybe it'll be a bigger ask — help for a whole new stadium.
The city has smartly been setting aside $75 million for that inevitability, but there's a good chance it won't cover all that Tepper and the team will want. It's also inevitable that when that happens, the public will wag its finger at Tepper's net worth. We shouldn't be helping billionaires buy new toys, people will say. He can afford to pay for his own stadium.
The latter may be true, but it's also irrelevant.
Charlotteans should remember an important thing about billionaires: They don't stop trying to make deals just because they bought something that's tangled up with the public interest. We shouldn't expect them to. Billionaires get where they are by maximizing the items in their portfolios. They squeeze out all the drops of profit they can. They turn good investments into better investments.
In that way, they're no different than any good businessman or woman. But we often have different standards for businesses and business people who accumulate a lot of zeroes. We get offended when they try to make more money. We get outraged when they ask a city or state for a better deal.
In doing so, we're ignoring this: There's another side to the negotiating table — ours. Charlotte isn't being forced to give money to a billionaire-with-a-B. We're maximizing our assets, too — in this case, our city's brand and economic engine — and we can say no to whatever offer doesn't fit our goals. But if we say no to David Tepper, we should do it for the right reasons — the return on our investment isn't good enough, for example, or our dollars would be better spent on something other than a sports team. We also should do it with eyes wide open — the Panthers could and probably would at least check to see if other cities might be willing to offer what Charlotte won't.
We shouldn't say no, however, just because of all of David Tepper's zeroes. Because as any good businessperson knows, it doesn't matter whether the deal is fantastic for the other guy. It matters whether it's good for you.
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