Let’s push winning Panthers bidder to escrow stadium renovation cash

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From all reports, the Carolina Panthers ownership sweepstakes is getting closer to determining who draws the prize of having to pay upwards of $2.5 billion to own an NFL franchise.

Whoever wins, we’d like to see the winning bidder group set aside an additional $100 million for dedicated local and state government use whenever the new owner inevitably comes seeking subsidies for upgrading Bank of America Stadium. There couldn’t be a better way to curry favor with the community.

Forcing taxpayers to absorb the cost of inevitable stadium alterations would be a disappointing first move for whoever submits the winning bid. Moreover, local government officials are in a stronger position at the time of a deal than they ever will be down the road. Let’s see some courage from Charlotte and N.C. leaders.

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David Tepper

Six serious bidders have emerged, including four who have been identified, according to The New York Times. The front-runners appear to include David Tepper, founder of Appaloosa Management, a hedge fund based in Miami Beach, Fla. and Michael Rubin, owner of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Fanatics, which is an online retailer of sports-related apparel. Fanatics is the NFL’s official retail merchandise partner.

Tepper is also part owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a stake he would sell should he win the Panthers’ bidding.

Other likely bidders include Ben Navarro, who owns Sherman Financial Group. The financial services company derives most of its income from Credit One, which issues credit cards to high risk customers and provides services to subprime lenders. (To help make his case, Navarro has hired Charlotte marketing firm Luquire George Andrews, whose principal owner Steve Luquire is among current Panthers owner Jerry Richardson’s closest advisors.)

Also appearing on bidder lists is Alan Kestenbaum is chief executive of New York-based Bedrock Industries, which is in the metal and mining business.

The owners, who held their annual meetings last week in Orlando, Fla., seem to favor Tepper and Rubin, according to published reports. All four candidates have submitted bids.

The NFL is the richest sports league in the country with $14 billion in revenue last year, the Times reported. If an owner can afford $2.5 billion, providing $100 million to limit public subsidies seems like a fair bargain.

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