If we see Stephen Curry in the owner’s box at Carolina Panthers games, it will likely be as a guest. A would-be ownership group linked to the NBA star has reportedly dropped out of the bidding for the team, as the price has reached an unprecedented $2.5 billion.
According to a Bloomberg report Tuesday, that’s too much for Michael Rubin, an e-commerce billionaire who had filed a formal notice this month to the NFL and to the bank handling the sale of the Panthers on behalf of current owner and team founder Jerry Richardson. Seeking to diversify his consortium, Rubin had reportedly drawn the interest of Curry, a Charlotte native and passionate fan of the Panthers, as well as rapper/entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs.
At least three bidders remain for the Panthers, according to multiple reports, pushing a price that could set a record for the sale of a U.S. professional sports team. The NBA’s Houston Rockets established a new mark last year when they were sold for $2.2 billion, while the highest figure thus far for an NFL team was the $1.4 billion fetched in 2014 by the Buffalo Bills, the most recent NFL franchise that went for sale.
Forbes valued the Panthers at $2.3 billion last year, placing them 21st out of 32 NFL teams on its list of franchise valuations. The Dallas Cowboys, at $4.8 billion, topped Forbes’s list, while the New Orleans Saints, who might be the next to go on the market, following the death last week of longtime owner Tom Benson, were in 27th place at $2 billion.
The 81-year-old Richardson announced in December his intention to sell the Panthers, amid an investigation by the NFL into allegations of workplace misconduct. Others who have reportedly bid on the team include Pittsburgh Steelers minority owner David Tepper, South Carolina businessman Ben Navarro and Alan Kestenbaum, the CEO of a private-equity firm.
A fourth interested party could be Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS Institute Inc., and a North Carolina native. Bloomberg reported that the “rapid escalation in bidding” caused Rubin, the chairman of online sports-apparel company Fanatics, to “drop out of the process,” but ESPN reported that he “remains interested at what he considers the right price.”
The Panthers could select the winning bid by the end of the month or in early April, per the Charlotte Observer, at which point it would need to be approved by three quarters of the NFL’s owners, who are set to hold meetings in May.
In January, Curry described the possibility of becoming a part-owner of the Panthers as “a pretty interesting opportunity.” The Golden State Warriors star, who has fired up Panthers fans during pre-game rallies, added, “Obviously I have a day job, but I’ve got people that are plugged in and trying to see how to make that happen.”