Signs are pointing to hedge fund manager David Tepper as the winning bidder to buy the Carolina Panthers, sources told the Observer on Friday.
CBS and ESPN separately reported on Friday that Tepper is the leading candidate, and that the announcement could come as early as next week. A source also told the Observer that an announcement could be made next week.
Tepper, 60, is the richest of the known bidders who sought to buy the Panthers, with a net worth of $11 billion, according to Forbes. He’s also the only one already vetted by the NFL, as a part-owner of his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
One of the sources told the Observer that Tepper's bid was helped because he had the least complex finances and didn't have a need for minority partners. The source also cautioned that a deal did not appear to be finalized.
Tepper could not be reached for comment Friday.
He visited Charlotte once in early April, and was in town again Wednesday meeting with team officials, ESPN reported.
Before the deal can be completed, three-fourths of the 32 NFL team owners must approve the sale. The owners next meet May 21-23 in Atlanta, although a deal could be approved after that time as well.
Panthers spokeman Steven Drummond said the team would not have a comment.
Jerry Richardson, the Panthers' founding owner, announced plans to sell the team in December on the day Sports Illustrated reported allegations of workplace misconduct by Richardson. In January, the NFL hired Mary Jo White, a former Securities and Exchange Commission chair, to lead an independent investigation of Richardson but has said little about the probe since then.
To handle the sale, the Panthers hired New York investment bank Allen & Co. in January to line up bidders, and since then the secretive sales process has taken a number of twists and turns.
In addition to Tepper, the Observer has identified three other bidders: Charleston financial services CEO Ben Navarro, steel company CEO Alan Kestenbaum and e-commerce entrepreneur Michael Rubin.
Tepper owns a 5 percent stake in the Steelers. He made that investment in 2009, the same year his team won the Super Bowl.
His share is now worth $122.5 million. In accordance with NFL rules, if he winds up owning the Panthers, he'd have to sell his stake in the Steelers before he officially buys the Charlotte team. Tepper, the father of three kids, has said that he likes the people in Charlotte but hasn't commented on any plans he might have for the team.
Navarro, once considered the favorite to buy the team, reached out to two-time Super Bowl winner Peyton Manning about joining his ownership group, the Observer reported this week. And in late April, Richardson's son, Mark, threw his weight behind Navarro.
The New York Times has reported that Navarro bid $2.6 billion for the team, although it's unclear if that bid required minority investors. The Observer has reported that some of Richardson's current limited partners had expressed interested in joining with the new owner.
The New York Times reported in April that Tepper appeared unlikely to emerge as the winner because he was unwilling to meet the Panthers’ asking price of $2.5 billion. But Tepper called the Observer later that day to say he was still in the bidding process, although he declined to comment on price.
It's unclear what price the Panthers will sell for but if the team goes for more than $2.2 billion it would set a record for a U.S. sports franchise.
Forbes has valued the Panthers at $2.3 billion and the last NFL team to be sold, the Buffalo Bills, went for $1.4 billion in 2014.