Panthers owner Jerry Richardson took himself out of the team’s front office Monday, and turned over day-to-day operations to fellow executive Tina Becker. That came a day after he announced he's selling the team, and amid an NFL investigation of misconduct allegations against him. The news has led to lots of speculation about the fate of both the owner and the team, including what the Panthers might sell for, and potential buyers.
The NFL says it's taking over a Panthers internal investigation into the allegations. That followed a Sports Illustrated article with details - including news that the team had reached confidential settlements with at least four women and a report that he used a racial slur.
Then Sunday night, without mentioning the investigation, Richardson announced he'll put the team up for sale at the end of the season.
Coach Ron Rivera said Monday he's disappointed. “I know the allegations are serious. I know that the league's going to do the investigation. And everybody should be heard and should be listened to and respected,” Rivera said. “And at the end of the day, you know, who am I to judge? We need to have all the answers before we can do any of that.”
The situation has brought comparisons to former NBA team owner Donald Sterling. In 2014, Sterling was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers after making racist comments. But it's not a good comparison, says Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann, who's also a dean at University of New Hampshire Law School.
“I think it’s a very different scenario for Jerry Richardson, where he’s well liked, where until now, he had avoided at least public controversy,” McCann said. “I think many people in the Charlotte community like him a lot. A very different figure and my guess is that there would be some NFL owners who wouldn’t want to expel him from the league.”
Added Daniel Kaplan of the Sports Business Journal: “I think Richardson in some ways has bailed them out by agreeing to sell.
PANTHERS AT PEAK VALUE?
It's probably an ideal time to sell. A September ranking by Forbes magazine valued the team at $2.3 billion - about average for an NFL franchise now, but many times the $206 million Richardson paid in 1993.
And the Panthers could sell for more than the Forbes estimate, said Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis.
“I think that for this particular franchise, the market will be strong. It's not going to be exorbitant. My sense is the eventual sales price for the franchise will be somewhere between $2.5 and 2.7 billion,” Rish said.
The last NFL team sold was the Buffalo Bills in 2014. They went for more than expected - $1.4 billion - even though they're in a less desirable market and have an older stadium.
There would likely be lots of interest in the Panthers. After all, NFL teams don't come up for sale very often.
In fact, there's already been interest - if social media is any measure. Here's rapper and producer Sean "Diddy" Combs in an Instagram video:
“I need to send a message out to everybody in the beautiful state of North Carolina. I will be the best NFL owner that you can imagine,” Combs said.
NBA star Stephen Curry tweeted in reply that he wants in on the deal.
Kaplan said he's not so sure they could pull it off. The NFL has among the strictest ownership requirements of any pro sports league, Kaplan said. That includes a rule that limits the amount of debt an owner can take on. And Combs and Curry may not be wealthy enough to come up with $2.5 billion, Kaplan said.
Darin Gantt from NBC Sports' "Pro Football Talk" agrees.
“I think he's mostly succeeded in getting us to talk about Sean Combs, on the radio,” Gantt said on WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks” Monday. “I think one of the things people in Charlotte need to be mindful of … You're gonna hear a lot of names over the next couple of weeks. You're gonna hear Bruton Smith's name get dredged back up.”
Bruton Smith is the billionaire owner of NASCAR track operator Speedway Motorsports. In April 2016, he told an interviewer that he - and especially his sons - might be interested in buying the Panthers if they came up for sale.
A spokesman Monday said the Smiths had no comment.
WILL THEY STAY OR GO?
There’s concern that a buyer might want to move the team.
The Panthers are committed to staying at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte at least through 2019. That's part of a deal worked out with the city of Charlotte in 2013, when the city put up about $88 million for stadium renovations. Some city council members have said the city needs to plan for another request from the team in the coming years.
Other potential local buyers could come from among Richardson's business partners - the minority owners. His wife, son and daughter are among them. Beyond that, the list includes local businesspeople and developers - Johnny Harris, Smokey Bissell and Leon Levine.
Rishe of Washington University said local fans shouldn't worry about a move.
“Those fears are completely unfounded,” he said. “Far different from the St. Louis Rams. When the Rams left you had an owner that was itching to move to Los Angeles and at the time Los Angeles did not have a team. Now you've got two teams there.”
Panthers fans won't find out until there's a deal. Richardson says he won't do anything until after the last game. If fans get their way, that won't be until after the Super Bowl - in February.
Alexandra Olgin contributed to this story.