This month is always a time for whispers and rumors in the NFL, as the weeks before the draft sees mud flung at players hoping to hear their name called. This April, however, there has been another NFL whisper campaign, and instead of rookie players, it is directed at prospective rookie owners.
The sale of the Carolina Panthers has witnessed an unusually steep level of speculation about the three known bidders, so much so that one of them — David Tepper — publicly refuted last week a New York Times report that he had backed out of the process.
But the buzz isn’t limited to whether Tepper is in or out. Consider claims about:
• Media outlets having a dossier detailing the alleged ties to shady interests by bidder Ben Navarro’s Mexican lending business.
• Bidder Alan Kestenbaum’s rumored ties to Russian mining interests, and his long-ago partnership with late financier Marc Rich, who President Bill Clinton infamously pardoned.
• A fourth bidder could be in the mix.
Bidding for the Carolina PanthersDavid Tepper
The best-known of the three, he is a limited partner in his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers and founded Appaloosa Management, a hedge fund focused on distressed debt.
Chairman and CEO of Bedrock Industries, which owns and operates metals, mining and natural resource companies.
CEO of Sherman Financial, which specializes in subprime consumer lending.
Marc Ganis, a consultant whose Sportscorp has worked with NFL teams for decades, said the rumor mill reflects the fact that some of the bidders are relatively unknown.
“It is typical people who buy NFL teams are well-known before they buy an NFL team,” Ganis said.
That notion was amplified last month when Bob McNair, the Houston Texans owner and like Navarro a native of South Carolina, said he had never come across the subprime lender during his time in the state.
“I don’t know him, but he is from Charleston and I have a home … and business interests down there and I have never run into him,” McNair told reporters at the NFL owners meeting in Orlando.
However, the universe of individuals who can buy an NFL team has shrunk drastically in recent years as the prices have skyrocketed and league rules limit debt and the number of partners. Depending on one’s source, the price for the Panthers could top $2.5 billion. To put that in perspective, that is more than the combined total of the last two teams that were sold: the Buffalo Bills, in 2014 for $1.4 billion, and Cleveland Browns in 2012 for $960 million.
Tepper is of course well-known to the NFL, as the fund manager is a limited partner in the Pittsburgh Steelers. He appears to be the most qualified bidder but also the one who is willing to pay the least, sources said.
The sales process is being run by Allen & Co., which faces a tough situation. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has very high price expectations, some say over $3 billion. Yet the bidder with the deepest pockets, Tepper, is promising not to overpay and is believed to be in the low $2 billion range.
The NFL wants a new owner by the league’s next owners meeting, set for May 21.