NFL owners voted to begin a new chapter in Carolina Panthers history on Tuesday, unanimously approving David Tepper as the team's owner.
The 32-0 vote gave the Panthers the second owner in team history. It also marked the end of Jerry Richardson's 25-year tenure as owner and a turbulent five-month period for the franchise.
Speaking to the media immediately following the vote and after a brief introduction by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Tepper praised Charlotte and removed any doubt that the team would stay.
"I’ve been around this league for a little bit of time. This opportunity came up. I think it’s a fantastic place with a great football tradition. I think it’s a great football area, good people," Tepper said.
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“What’s the name of the team? Carolina Panthers," Tepper continued. "It’s gonna stay the Carolina Panthers. Charlotte is the logical place for a stadium."
He said that it's too soon to talk about building a new stadium, however.
Approval by other NFL owners — which was expected — is the culmination of a bidding process that began at the end of the Panthers' season in early January. Weeks before that, Richardson put the team up for sale on the same day a Sports Illustrated story was published detailing allegations of sexual and racial misconduct by Richardson.
Asked about how he would work to improve the front-office culture in the wake of the allegations against Richardson, Tepper said he hasn't had enough time to evaluate the situation.
"For me to exactly speak about that, exactly what I was going to do, is almost impossible. But I’ll say this — and this has nothing to do with whatever’s there, because I don’t know. But for me … I’m a person that believes in equality for everybody, including men and women."
Speaking to reporters Tuesday night, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the addition of Tepper as an owner gives him hope for the league's future from a business perspective.
"When you’re in my shoes, it’s a good feeling and a compliment to have a David Tepper come into the league and make the substantive investment he’s making. In a way, it’s kind of an endorsement of what the league is doing and our future," Jones said.
Richardson arrived at the meetings Tuesday and addressed his fellow owners for the final time.
Afterward, he and Goodell both teared up while sharing an embrace as owners gave Richardson a round of applause.
"It was emotional seeing that. He meant a lot to the league. It was nice to see him today," said Giants co-owner John Mara, who has long been a Richardson friend and confidante.
Asked what Richardson's message was, Mara said: "He just talked about the process he went through with Mr. Tepper and thought he was a good fit for the league."
Meanwhile, Tepper made his intentions for the franchise clear.
"The first thing I care about is winning," he said. "The second thing I care about is winning. Third thing I care about is ... (winning.) On and off the field."
Tepper said he was looking at adding minority partners, and that there was some advantage to having some local partners in an ownership group.
The $2.275 billion Tepper will pay is a record for an NFL team, topping the $1.4 billion that Terry and Kim Pegula paid for the Buffalo Bills in 2014.
Before the vote, Tepper, 60, met with the NFL’s nine-man finance committee Tuesday morning at the Whitley Hotel, a former Ritz-Carlton in the middle of Atlanta’s finance district in Buckhead. He received a unanimous approval from the committee, Goodell said.
After the various committees broke for lunch, the owners reconvened to vote on Tepper, a Pittsburgh native who had been vetted in 2009 when he bought a 5 percent stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers (which he will have to sell.)
Tepper’s familiarity with the owners and league officials — in addition to being able to pay $2.2 billion in cash rather than rely on a number of minority partners — helped him win the bid over Charleston businessman Ben Navarro, steel company CEO Alan Kestenbaum and e-commerce entrepreneur Michael Rubin.
Tepper needed a total of 24 votes — including the Panthers’ — for approval.
Before arriving in Atlanta Monday, Tepper and Appaloosa Management Chief Operating Officer Jeff Kaplan met with Panthers minority partners in Charlotte.
On Sunday, Tepper delivered an emotional commencement address at Carnegie Mellon University, where he received his MBA in 1982.
"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."