David Tepper approved as new owner of Panthers

ByDavid Newton ESPN logo
Wednesday, May 23, 2018

ATLANTA -- David Tepper on Tuesday got the same vote of approval from the NFL's 32 owners to purchase the Carolina Panthers that Jerry Richardson got in 1993 when he founded the team.


Now the question is how the hedge fund billionaire from Pittsburgh will change the culture that led Richardson, under investigation by the league for alleged sexual and workplace misconduct, to sell the team he bought for $140 million for a record $2.275 billion.

"I don't know exactly what's there, because I haven't been there,'' Tepper said shortly after being introduced by commissioner Roger Goodell at the league's spring meetings. "For me to exactly speak about that, exactly what I am going to do, it's almost impossible.

"But I'll say this -- and this has nothing to do with whatever's there, because I don't know. ... I've had a business for 25 years. I'm a person that believes in equality for everybody, including men and women. ... Anything that comes out of this is the past. The past is the past. The future will be that.''

Richardson, 81, hadn't attended a league meeting since the spring of 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was at the Whitley Hotel in Atlanta to cast his vote for Tepper, a minority owner with the Pittsburgh Steelers the past nine years.

Richardson did not talk to reporters but did present Tepper to owners.

Fellow owners saluted Richardson's contributions to the league.

"Men like Jerry build the league and he gave it his all," the Cowboys' Jerry Jones said. "I don't want to sound like he's gone, as far as him being gone from earth. But he's gone from the NFL, so I'll talk about him in the past. He gave everything he had to the Panthers and the NFL."

Jones wouldn't address the allegations against Richardson, saying he didn't know what happened first-hand.

Tepper, meanwhile, was limited in what he could say because he won't be in charge until the sale is completed in July, at which time sources have told ESPN the league will announce the findings of the investigation into Richardson.

Tuesday's approval just put Tepper, 60, one step closer to taking over the team that far surpassed the then-NFL record $1.4 billion Buffalo Bills sold for in 2014.

Until the sale is official, Tepper will use his lack of knowledge to defuse questions about potential change.

"I have a great appreciation for how stupid I am,'' he said with a laugh.

But Tepper isn't afraid to make changes.

"David will be a good owner,'' Steelers owner Art Rooney II told ESPN. "I'm excited for him to be a part of the league. He has great passion for the game of football ... loves the game. He came from Pittsburgh, what else can you ask for?''

Asked why he decided to purchase the Panthers, Tepper reminded he's been "hanging around'' the league for nine years with the Steelers.

"This opportunity came up,'' he said. "It's a fantastic place with a fantastic football team. It's a great football area. Good people.

"People make fun of me for saying this, but it's very comfortable down there. For me, we do a lot of charity around the country, so it's a fantastic platform.''

Tepper re-emphasized what he's said all along: The team will remain in Charlotte and there are no plans to build a new stadium outside the city.

"What's the name of the team?'' he asked. "It's gonna stay the Carolina Panthers. Charlotte is a logical place for a stadium. As far as a new stadium, you're asking me too much. The only thing I have a market on right now is a lack of knowledge. I'll call it stupidity.''

Tepper said he would look at adding minority owners, adding there are advantages to having local partners in ownership.

"I'm trying to figure out the structure right now,'' he said.

Tepper added there are no plans to make changes on the football side to a team that has made the playoffs four of the past five years, including the Super Bowl in 2015, under coach Ron Rivera.

"There's a great team down there right now,'' Tepper said. "Sometimes it's better to do nothing than something. You want to be very careful when you do anything.

"The first thing I care about is winning. The second thing I care about is winning. The third thing I care about is?''

A reporter in the crowd said, "Winning.''

"You got it. Smart,'' Tepper added. "That's on and off the field. That includes the charity aspect, the community aspect and how you make winning better. You win a lot of ways, and I don't like to lose in any way.''

Tepper, the founder of global hedge fund Appaloosa Management, has a net worth of $11 billion, according to Forbes. Because he is a minority owner of the Steelers he already had passed the league's vetting process before he got official approval earlier Tuesday from the finance committee. That and the ability to write a check for the purchase put him ahead of other candidates.

That the league, according to sources, encouraged Richardson to complete the sale in time for a vote at these meetings also worked to Tepper's favor. There wasn't time for Charleston, South Carolina, billionaire Ben Navarro, the runner-up in the process, to complete the vetting process before this week, even though his bid was $50 million to $60 million higher than Tepper's, sources said.

For Tepper, this was the culmination of a dream for somebody who as a kid couldn't afford to go to an NFL game. He was almost giddy, twice making references to his lack of hair.

"Listen, I'm thrilled about this,'' he said. "It's more than fantastic.''

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