Two major financial moves this week involving Carolina Panthers’ owner David Tepper appear to tie him all the more strongly to the future of his team.
First, the NFL approved the sale of his 5 percent stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers, a league source told the Observer on Thursday, a deal that could net Tepper more than $122 million.
Second, Tepper is converting Appaloosa Management, the hugely profitable hedge fund he founded 26 years ago, to a family company that largely will eliminate his responsibilities with outside investors, according to reports.
Both moves seem part of Tepper’s plan, at 61, to go all-in on his new life’s work of running the Panthers. And they come as Tepper is about to launch a major expansion of the team’s footprint in both Carolinas. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster is expected to soon sign a bill that would give the team $115 million in tax incentives over 15 years to relocate team headquarters and practice facilities to Rock Hill.
Tepper purchased the stake in his hometown Steelers about 10 years ago as a passion project, but one that would also get his foot in the door to full NFL ownership.
The Steelers’ most recent valuation in 2018, according to Forbes, was $2.45 billion. That means the sale of Tepper’s shares are worth an estimated $122.5 million. The sale, which was mandated by the league for Tepper to buy the Panthers, was approved by NFL owners on Wednesday, a league source told the Observer.
The Wall Street Journal and CNBC reported on Thursday morning that Tepper has decided to return outside capital to investors and convert Appaloosa to a what is known as a family office focusing on the handling of Tepper’s personal wealth. Appaloosa currently manages about $14 billion.
According to the Journal, Tepper made the decision because he wants to focus his time on managing the Panthers, the $2.2 billion cash sale of which was approved by NFL owners around this time last year.
Worth $11.5 billion at the time he bought the Panthers, Tepper remains the NFL’s wealthiest owner — a distinction that some detractors of the tax breaks bill have seized upon, arguing that Tepper should cover the cost of the Rock Hill expansion himself.
Lawmakers in both Carolinas are only just beginning to understand the scope of Tepper’s plans for the team as he settles into the ownership role.
In Tepper’s first year, he has acted as a student of football operations, providing input but not controlling decision-making for personnel moves, transactions and other matters, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has said.
Tepper instead has focused on front-office and business operations.
He hired team president Tom Glick last fall to expand the Panthers’ brand both nationally and globally, and also put Glick in charge of pursuing a Major League Soccer expansion in Charlotte.
He also hired the Panthers’ first-ever, female chief financial officer, Kristi Coleman, and the Panthers’ first chief marketing officer and lead on sponsorships, Meredith Starkey.
Tepper’s hiring of Mark Hart — formerly the vice president of development for the Steelers — as chief operating officer and vice president of development aligned with the owner’s S.C. expansion plan.
The Rock Hill facility would include an indoor practice facility of up to 10,000 seats, a half dozen or so outdoor practice fields, as well as training facilities and offices, the State newspaper reported last month. The complex reportedly will also include a hotel, retail space, and a hospital in partnership with Atrium Health.
“Our new headquarters is just a portion of the project we want to build,” Hart told the State. “(Tepper) is thinking big.”
Tepper’s check for the sale of his Steelers’ shares, plus the tax breaks he will receive from South Carolina, will more than foot the projected $200 million bill for the expansion project should he choose to complement the tax dollars with his personal money instead of partnerships and sponsorships.
Meanwhile, the construction of a mixed-use practice bubble and expanded cafeteria is underway at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Those projects are expected to be completed by the beginning of the Panthers’ preseason, once the team is back from training camp in Spartanburg, S.C. in August.
Throughout the past year, Tepper split his time between Appaloosa headquarters in Miami and Charlotte, calculating his time in each state down to the day. He even equipped his desk at Bank of America Stadium with a Bloomberg keyboard, so he could continue to multi-task and keep an eye on the stock market.
With his recent moves, it seems Tepper will focus his entire attention on continuing to expand the Panthers’ physical presence and brand through the Carolinas and beyond.