Carolina Panthers' solo ownership shows franchise maturity

Carolina Panthers' solo ownership shows franchise maturity

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Max Muhleman remembers the six-year campaign he orchestrated to help a former NFL player-turned-fast food executive named Jerry Richardson land an expansion team for the Carolinas. Through much of that time, beginning in the late-1980s, sports marketing consultant Muhleman guesstimated the going rate for a new team would be around $75 million.

Richardson needed some financial help to swing the deal, assuming he and Muhleman and bank executive Hugh McColl Jr., among others, could persuade the NFL to put a team in Charlotte. Muhleman told me Tuesday that Richardson devoted ample time to collecting investors — as much for their civic clout as their portfolios.

In 1993, the NFL awarded Richardson and Charlotte the expansion franchise that became the Carolina Panthers. And, as the process wound to a close that year with owners voting on expansion at a meeting in Chicago, the price of admission kept rising. It eventually reached $200 million after factoring in two years without a share of national TV revenue.

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Richardson’s partnership included a slew of prominent families who had built businesses and reputations in and around Charlotte: the Belks, the Bowleses and Closes, the Harrises, the Levines and so on. Now, according to a report by sister publication SportsBusiness Journal, it appears those ties will soon be severed. Sources told SBJ this week that new Panthers owner David Tepper, whose $2.275 billion purchase of the NFL team closes next month, will opt against keeping any of Richardson’s minority investors. (The sale price was in line with franchise value estimates of $2.3 billion.)

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