NFL owners are expected to approve hedge fund manager David Tepper as the next owner of the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday, ushering in a new era of leadership for the team that Jerry Richardson brought to the Carolinas nearly 25 years ago.
Tepper is expected to meet with the NFL's eight-man finance committee for a recommendation before appearing before the rest of the owners for a vote in the afternoon at the spring meetings at the Whitley Hotel in Buckhead.
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Tepper, 60, is already well-known in the NFL after buying a 5 percent stake in his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in 2009. He also agreed to buy the Panthers for $2.2 billion in cash ($2.275 billion total) without any minority partners who would need to be vetted by the league.
Those factors make Tepper's approval by the NFL essentially certain.
Tepper arrived a little before 8:30 p.m. at the Whitley Hotel and was flanked by reporters, one of whom asked whether he was excited for tomorrow. "Why wouldn't I be?" asked Tepper, who was promptly whisked off to his room.
Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, who heads the NFL's finance committee, said Monday that he hasn't met Tepper yet but cited Tepper's part-ownership in the Steelers as a reason that an approval vote should go smoothly.
"I don't think there will be any surprises," McNair said.
The approval requires a three-fourths vote by the owners, meaning at least 24 must sign off on the sale (the Panthers get to vote, too).
Tepper's purchase is expected to close in July. But Tuesday's vote, in effect, will signal the end of Richardson’s 25-year tenure as founder and owner. Richardson announced his plans to sell the team in December on the same day an explosive Sports Illustrated article detailed allegations of racial and sexual misconduct by Richardson.
Panthers officials were noncommittal as to whether Richardson would show up Tuesday for the handoff to Tepper. But McNair, the Houston owner, said he did not expect to see Richardson in Atlanta.
Richardson, 81, has skipped most league meetings in recent years for health reasons, although he attended the spring meetings in Charlotte two years ago.
Chief Operating Officer Tina Becker, who took over day-to-day duties from Richardson in December in the wake of the scandal, was the team’s point person at the NFL’s annual meeting in Orlando in March. Richardson is building an office in SouthPark to house his post-Panthers business.
Meanwhile, the NFL’s investigation of Richardson will continue.
Mary Jo White, the former Securities and Exchange Commissions chair, is leading the independent investigation, which a former Panthers employee called a “farce” in a Sports Illustrated article last month.
The unnamed woman — one of at least four former employees to receive financial settlements because of Richardson’s alleged misconduct — said in the SI piece she was told that neither White nor the league could protect her if she breached her nondisclosure agreement that was part of the settlement.
The NFL's approval would cap off an eventful week for Tepper. Days after agreeing to buy the Panthers, Tepper on Sunday delivered an emotional commencement address at Carnegie Mellon University, the private research university whose business school bears his name thanks to a $55 million gift he made in 2004.
In his speech, Tepper described a childhood that was anything but lavish. He worked three jobs in high school, then stacked books in college to pay for tuition. Choking back tears, Tepper detailed physical abuse by his father and his own pride in breaking the cycle of abuse.
"A kid who couldn’t afford to go to an NFL game until well into his 20s is on the verge of getting NFL’s approval to buy the Carolina Panthers," Tepper said. "Not too shabby.”
A number of key details remain unknown as Tepper takes over ownership of the Panthers, including his vision for Bank of America Stadium, his staffing plans and his thoughts on minority partners. Tepper doesn't have any part-owners as part of his deal, but he can add them later if he wants, the league has said.