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The Selling of the Carolina Panthers

Football is a business and every once in a while an owner has to sell an NFL team. This time it is Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.

This is clearly an emotional decision for him. He founded the Panthers in 1995 and has connected a region in a powerful way. His story is a classic American dream. He came from New Hope, North Carolina (population 1,314 as of 2016) and followed his dream of becoming a professional football player. He caught a touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas in the 1959 NFL Championship Game.

He retired after the 1960 season and used his winner’s check from 1959 to start a fast food empire. At one point he owned and operated 500 Hardee’s, 1,300 Denny’s, and 215 Quincy’s Steak Houses. All of these restaurants were under the control of his holding company, Flagstar.

Throughout his business career, he never forgot his lifelong goal of bringing an NFL team to his home state of North Carolina. The NFL gave him that opportunity in 1994 when it voted to bring an NFL team to Charlotte, North Carolina. A region was brought together.

Over the years, as the Panthers were building their brand, Jerry Richardson was making an image of himself which spoke to the heart of America. This image was one of the American Dream, a hard-working man who makes good.

Unfortunately, within the Panthers organization, there was another image. There were multiple allegations of workplace misconduct which included sexually suggestive language and behavior as well as the use of a racial slur.

The public eventually found out that he had allegedly paid off a number of employees to keep quiet about his behavior. It was due to this embarrassment that Richardson decided to sell the team at the end of the season. With the Panthers losing to the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card Round, the team is now officially for sale. What follows is a list of potential suitors which range from traditional to highly unusual.

The Stakeholders

The Richardson family currently owns 49% of the Panthers with 9 other minority owners. While the Panthers have stated that most of the partners have elected to sell their shares in the sale there is still speculation that some of the partners are considering buying the team. It is plausible to believe that these unknown partners are larger stakeholders.

Levine Family: The Levine family founded Family Dollar and ran the company until its sale to Dollar Tree in 2015 for $9.1 billion. With a 10% minority stake in the Panthers along with the proceeds from the sale of Family Dollar, the Levine family might have the easiest path to purchasing the Panthers.

Steve and Jerry Wordsworth: They have the largest minority stake in the team at 16% and could use that as leverage to purchase a majority stake. They sold Meadowbrook Meat to McLane Company, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, for an undisclosed amount. Before the sale, the company was making $6 billion in annual revenue. They also are native to North Carolina.

Belk Family: They own a 5% stake in the team and are North Carolina royalty. They sold their department store chain in 2015 for $2.7 billion which ended a 127-year dynasty. Considering their relatively small stake in the Panthers, it is unlikely they will be a frontrunner for buying the team.

Other Notable Natives

James Goodnight: He co-founded SAS, an analytics software firm, and is worth a cool $9.9 billion. He is North Carolina’s wealthiest resident and could afford to purchase the team. However, he is 74 years old which might prove to be his downfall in the eyes of the NFL owners who vote on the sale of franchises.

Michael Jordan: The NBA legend has ownership stakes in two professional teams, the Charlotte Hornets and the Miami Marlins (1%). While he does not have the cash to purchase the team by himself, he could be a part of an ownership group. The NFL does frown on owners owning teams in others sports in competing cities. However, this is only for majority stakeholders. He would probably not have to sell his 1% stake in the Marlins in order for him to be seriously considered for ownership.

Stephen Curry and Diddy: This has caused the most speculation in the media due to the popularity of both Stephen Curry and Sean John Combs (Diddy). Curry is a star NBA player and Diddy is an accomplished rapper and producer. Their combined net worth is $1.2 billion based on Curry’s current contract of $200 million. This is far from the value of the Panthers and they must attract more investors before they can be considered serious candidates.

What is most striking about this is that Curry is a current professional athlete at the height of his career. As far as I can tell, no one in the modern era has been a current star athlete while owning a professional sports team. The last person to accomplish this feat was George Halas in 1929. While Diddy is from New York, Curry is from North Carolina and is an avid Panther’s fan.

Final Thoughts

While this is a complicated time for the Panthers, it should be noted just what Jerry Richardson is looking for in an owner. His heart is with North Carolina. It always has and always will beat the songs of the Tar Heel State. He wants someone who was born and raised in North Carolina. Someone with his values would be a plus. He founded the Panthers for his state and has thoroughly enjoyed building it into a model franchise. The citizens of North Carolina look at his team with a sense of pride.

There is no question that Richardson is going to find the best owner for his team. What will be intriguing is seeing who he chooses.

Will it be an insider such as Steve and Jerry Wordsworth? Or will it be an out of the box choice such as Stephen Curry and Diddy? This will be a highly emotional decision for Jerry Richardson as he has built the Panthers from the ground up and has successfully woven it into the identity of North Carolina, his home.

While it is a shame that this is how Jerry Richardson’s reign will end, Panther fans should be hopeful for the future as new ownership can bring new opportunities. Richardson only wants what is best for his beloved franchise, as well as his home, and will not rest until he finds the perfect buyer. A new day is dawning in Charlotte and while it might be a bumpy start, the Panther organization is on the right path.

David Hegler

Author David Hegler

BS in Business Management from Azusa Pacific University. Fanatical 49er fan. Avid fan of all Bay Area sports teams.

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