Multiple sources have told the Observer that a steel and mining industry executive has surfaced as the latest potential bidder for the Carolina Panthers, as the sales process heats up.
Alan Kestenbaum is chairman and CEO of the private equity firm Bedrock Industries LP, which in June bought a 107-year-old Canadian steel company now called Stelco Holdings.
The sources spoke with the Observer on the condition of anonymity because the bidding process is confidential. Kestenbaum, whose interest in the Panthers was first reported by the Observer, could not be reached for comment.
Bloomberg also reported Wednesday that the price tag of the franchise has reached $2.5 billion, prompting another prospective bidder, Philadelphia e-commerce innovator Michael Rubin, to drop out. But sources close to the process said Rubin has made a bid and is still interested in the team at the right price.
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Billionaire Jim Goodnight, CEO of Cary-based SAS Institute Inc., also could be interested in the team, Bloomberg reported. Goodnight could not immediately be reached for comment.
A $2.5 billion sales price would set a record for a U.S. professional sports franchise, according to Bloomberg. Forbes has estimated the value of the Panthers at $2.3 billion, but experts have said it could go for more. In the most recent sale of an NFL team, Terry and Kim Pegula bought the Buffalo Bills for $1.4 billion.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson disclosed plans in December to sell the franchise he brought to the Carolinas in the mid-1990s. The sale announcement came on the day Sports Illustrated published a report alleging workplace sexual and racial misconduct by Richardson.
The Observer has previously reported that likely bidders include Rubin, Charleston businessman Ben Navarro and Miami hedge fund manager David Tepper. Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates has spearheaded a potential local ownership group, but a source said he might look at partnering with another bidder.
According to a bio on his company website, Kestenbaum has “extensive investing and operating experience in the natural resources sectors as well as a successful track record in turnarounds and restructurings.” He is the founder of a company called Globe Specialty Metals Inc. and former chairman of Ferroglobe PLC. In early 2015, Globe agreed to merge with a Spanish company called Grupo FerroAtlantica for $3.1 billion.
Bloomberg reported Wednesday that Canadian billionaire Jim Pattison could be backing Kestenbaum’s bid, citing people familiar with the matter. In a phone interview, Pattison told the Observer that he is not interested in buying an NFL team. “No one has contacted me about the sale,” Pattison said.
Bedrock is based in Miami and public records show that Kestenbaum owns beachfront condominiums in Dade County, Fla.
A Bloomberg News story in December described him as a 55-year-old Brooklyn-born turnaround artist who sees promise in a steel company that has struggled with losses, gone through bankruptcy protection twice and endured thorny labor relations. After completing an initial public stock offering in November, Stelco will use part of the $181 million in IPO proceeds to boost capacity at steel mills and to pursue possible acquisitions, according to a Reuters story.
“Many companies and owners today have broken balance sheets, are forced asset sellers and have operational issues. We talk to everybody,” Kestenbaum told Reuters. Bedrock controls 85 percent of Stelco, he told Business News Network last year.
In January, the Panthers hired New York investment bank Allen & Co. to help the team solicit bidders and narrow down the choices. Sources have told the Observer that a winning bid could be selected by the team as early as the end of this month or early next month. That scenario would mean NFL team owners would vote to approve the sale during their May 21-23 meetings in Atlanta.
Staff writer Joseph Person contributed.