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Volume 24 No. 179
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Column: Richardson Can Save Some Of His Legacy By Keeping Panthers In Charlotte

Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson has "one last chance to salvage a piece of his legacy" after announcing he will sell the team following allegations of workplace misconduct, and that is selling the franchise "to an ownership group that will keep it in Charlotte," according to Scott Fowler of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. If Richardson "doesn’t sell to some locals, he absolutely must go to great lengths to ensure that the Panthers stay in Charlotte." The "shock value" of the SI.com story that detailed various examples of sexual harassment will "eventually fade, but Richardson will never be perceived exactly the same way again in the Carolinas" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18). ESPN's Adam Schefter notes Richardson through his estate was planning to sell the Panthers "once he passed away." By announcing his plans to sell the team now, he "can control where it goes and who buys it, the terms and conditions of the sale." The sale likely will take months to complete, and it "will be interesting to see the process involved." Most observers "believe that this franchise is going to go for a number north" of $2B. Schefter: "He is not doing it for the money, that’s not what this is about. This is about getting ahead of it, being able to dictate the sale to a person he wants on the terms he wants, and of course detaching himself from the NFL" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 12/18).

NO LARGE FEE TO RELOCATE: In Charlotte, Rodrigue, Person & Harrison note if a new owner wanted to "relocate the team, there isn’t a significant financial penalty the team would have to pay local taxpayers." The Panthers and the city of Charlotte in April '13 "signed an agreement that called for the public" to spend $87.5M on "stadium improvements and game-day expenses." Most of that money -- $75M -- was for "stadium improvements such as new escalators." In return, the city said that it had a "six-year 'hard tether' that would keep the Panthers in Charlotte." The current season is the "fifth season in the six-year tether." Next year "will be the final season in the tether, which officially expires" in June '19. The contract says that if the team "seeks to leave during that window, the city can take them to court to attempt to prevent them from leaving." But after June '19, there is "no provision that in the contract in which the team has agreed with the city that it’s supposed to stay in Charlotte." If the team leaves after June '19, the contract states the city "would have either the option of buying the stadium for a fair market value or the Panthers would pay the city the remaining debt payment" on the city’s $75M investment. If a new owner "did seek to move the team, that remaining debt would likely be an insignificant amount of money." Richardson in '09 said that his family owned 48% of the team, with the other 52% being "owned by the minority partners (which include a number of prominent members of the Charlotte business community)" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18). 

POSSIBLE SUITORS: In Charlotte, Katherine Peralta reports rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs tweeted that he "would like to buy" the franchise. Soon after, Warriors G Stephen Curry, who was raised in Charlotte, "chimed in on Twitter, adding, 'I’m in!'" Combs tweeted, "There are no majority African American NFL owners. Let’s make history" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/18). SMI Exec Chair Bruton Smith last year said that he "would be interested in purchasing" the Panthers (ESPN.com, 12/17). In S.F., Connor Letourneau notes it is "unclear whether Curry was joking" about his interest in purchasing the team, but he "surely has enough money to make a sizable investment in the franchise" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/18). Forbes "estimates the Panthers worth" at $2.3B. The AP's Steve Reed notes the Bills sold in '14 for $1.4B following the death of Owner Ralph Wilson. Richardson and his ownership group paid $206M in '93 for an expansion team (AP, 12/18).