Carolina Panthers

Hedge fund manager to buy Carolina Panthers for record NFL price

Hedge fund manager David Tepper is expected to sign a deal Tuesday to buy the Carolina Panthers for about $2.2 billion in cash.

Final terms were still being worked out Tuesday evening, a source close to the process said.

A second source told the Observer that the deal will be subject to an owners' vote at the next NFL meeting, which runs next Tuesday and Wednesday in Atlanta. Tepper is widely expected to be approved by the owners.

The $2.2 billion would be a record for an NFL franchise, besting the $1.4 billion price for the Buffalo Bills in 2014. Forbes had valued the Panthers at $2.3 billion.

The Observer and other media outlets reported last week that Tepper was set to become the team's new owner, ending a more than five-month search for a buyer for the franchise that began play in 1995. ESPN reporter Adam Schefter also tweeted that the deal would be signed Tuesday.

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Panthers owner and founder Jerry Richardson announced plans to sell the team in December on the same day Sports Illustrated published an explosive report detailing allegations of sexual and racial misconduct against Richardson.

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 known bidder already vetted by the NFL, as he is part-owner of his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Several key details about Tepper's deal remain unknown. While he's given no indication of wanting to move the team, he hasn't commented publicly about his plans.

Also unknown now: will he have any minority partners and what are his plans for Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers home field has been renovated in recent years, but some observers have said a new owner is likely to want a new building or more significant upgrades.

What the sale will mean to the team's current staff is also unclear. A spokesman for Tepper declined to comment. But in a brief interview last month, Tepper said that he likes the city.

"I have to tell you, for me, I like the people down there. They remind me of my original hometown, Pittsburgh,” said Tepper, who visiting Charlotte in April and last week as part of the bidding process.

Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates who has talked with Tepper during the bidding process, on Tuesday called the hedge fund manager “the perfect person to buy the team.” There is “no question” that Tepper will keep the team in Charlotte, he added.

“He loves Charlotte,” said Sabates, who had looked to pull together a local ownership group earlier in the sales process. “I think he will make the necessary investments to make the team go forward.”

Sabates said Tepper does not need to take on any investors but might bring in local partners eventually. Sabates said he would be interested in investing. “He would like to get people in the community involved,” he said.

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Four bidders

The Panthers hired New York investment bank Allen & Co. to lead a sales process that began in January and heated up this spring.

Tepper prevailed among a group of bidders which included Charleston financial services CEO Ben Navarro, steel company CEO Alan Kestenbaum and e-commerce entrepreneur Michael Rubin. Tepper, Navarro and Kestenbaum all visited Charlotte during the process.

Media reports indicated that bidding had reached $2.5 billion or higher, but the Observer couldn't confirm those details. Participants are bound by confidentiality agreements. Tepper had a built-in advantage, having already gone through the NFL approval process with the Steelers.

In a statement Tuesday, Navarro said he and his family were grateful to have had an opportunity to bid.

"It would have been a privilege to become the stewards of this iconic franchise to ensure its home remains in the Carolinas where it belongs, to establish a new era of leadership and excellence on and off the field, and to leverage the team’s NFL platform to further our quest to help all children gain access to a great education," Navarro said.

The $2.2 billion Panthers price tag is a record for an NFL team and similar to recent NBA deals. Last year, the Houston Rockets sold for $2.2 billion, and an investor agreed to buy a stake in the Brooklyn Nets in a transaction that valued the team at $2.3 billion.

Raised in Pittsburgh

Raised in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Tepper paid his way through the University of Pittsburgh by working at the campus library. After college, he worked as a credit and securities analyst at Equibank in Pittsburgh before going on to get his MBA at Carnegie Mellon.

Tepper now runs Appaloosa Management, which manages about $17 billion and is based in Miami.

Carnegie Mellon's business school bears Tepper’s name, thanks to a $55 million gift from the billionaire in 2004. Tepper has remained close to the school over the years and is delivering its commencement address Sunday.

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Always a sports fan, Tepper bought a 5 percent stake in the Steelers in 2009, the year the team won the Super Bowl. His investment is now worth $122.5 million, based on the current valuation of the Steelers ($2.45 billion, per Forbes).

Tepper has long been involved in charitable organizations in the different areas where he has planted roots, including Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Miami. A source who knows Tepper has said that if he were to come to Charlotte, “you should assume that (philanthropy) would continue.”

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta
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