The Carolina Panthers are for sale. It happened quickly and surprised many, and the circumstances are wholly unique in NFL history. The news also has prompted a slew of questions.
Darren Rovell covered why a sale could be good for NFL business. But how would the process work? Who can place bids? What's a reasonable timeline? Here's what we know.
This came out of left field. Aren't the Panthers a stable, family-owned franchise?
They were until last Friday, when they announced that a law firm would investigate allegations of workplace misconduct by owner Jerry Richardson.
On Sunday, Sports Illustrated published a major investigative piece revealing why. That night, Richardson announced his intention to sell. On Monday, he stepped away from the franchise's daily operations and named Tina Becker its chief operating officer. That's a whirlwind.
Richardson is 81 years old. Wouldn't he have sold soon anyway?
Perhaps. His sons stepped away from the franchise in 2009. It's possible that the revelations simply accelerated a previously made decision to sell.
Richardson said in a statement that he wouldn't commence the sale process until "after the very last game is played." The Panthers have not clinched a playoff spot with two weeks to play, so it's possible that bids could start coming in as early as the first week of January.
How does the bidding process work?
Any person or potential group can submit a bid, negotiate a price and sign a preliminary purchase agreement. Richardson said in 2009 that he owns 48 percent of the team, according to the Charlotte Observer. The other 52 percent is owned by a group of 12 investors, including members of the Belk and Bissell families and Erskine Bowles, a former White House Chief of Staff under president Bill Clinton. No other owners are obligated to sell, but they could negotiate separately with the next owner.
Does the NFL have any say in the matter?
Of course. The league will begin its vetting process in earnest after the purchase agreement is executed -- if the prospective general partner is not well known to them. Sometimes prospective owners work with the NFL in the background for years as they await the next franchise sale. In some cases, the NFL will broker and deliver a buyer to the franchise, as it did with Jimmy Haslam and the Cleveland Browns in 2012. Haslam had been a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Does the NFL have many rules for new owners?
The general partner must own at least 30 percent of the team equity, and typically the league prefers that percentage to be substantially higher. The NFL conducts a comprehensive review of the ownership group's finances. The general partner and the larger group, if there is one, must demonstrate the ability to both acquire the team and have enough cash to run the franchise. No team can be purchased with more than $250 million of debt.
How big can an ownership group be?
There must be one general partner who owns at least 30 percent equity in the team and no more than 24 partners total.
If all that checks out, then what?
The new ownership group must be approved by three-fourths of current NFL team owners.
Clark says Richardson is making right decision to sell Panthers
Ryan Clark agrees with Jerry Richardson's decision to sell the Carolina franchise at the end of the season amid allegations of sexual misconduct and a racial slur.
What's it going to cost?
The record for an NFL franchise sale to date is the $1.4 billion that Terry Pegula paid for the Buffalo Bills in 2014. But franchise values have continued to rise in the three years since then. Forbes recently pegged the Panthers at $2.3 billion. ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported that people in the league believe the team will sell at a valuation of around $2.5 billion.
Wow. What did Richardson and his partners originally pay for the darn thing?
About $206 million, including an expansion fee, when the franchise was initiated in 1995.
Are you sure someone is going to pay that much money? Isn't the NFL under siege?
The league has faced some challenges. Ratings are down. We see empty (but mostly sold) seats on television each week. Players and owners are always fighting, and lately, the owners are fighting among themselves.
But the bottom line is the NFL remains the most lucrative and popular sport in America. Buying a team elevates a prospective owner's public stature in a way that few other business decisions could.
Who is Richardson going to sell to?
One of the first people to declare interest was Diddy, the entertainer whose net worth Forbes has estimated at $820 million. Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and current NBA star Stephen Curry have said they want to join the group.
Another name to surface is Edward DeBartolo Jr., who transferred ownership of the San Francisco 49ers to his sister in 2000 because of involvement in a corruption case. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
Is it one of those two guys?
No. There will be many more suitors. Some of their names will never be publicized, and it's possible that the identity of the winning bid might not surface until the purchase agreement is signed. As crazy as it sounds, neither Diddy nor DeBartolo is believed to have the kind of money that matches recent NFL ownership additions. The last two people to buy NFL teams -- Haslam and Pegula -- are worth $3.7 billion and $4.3 billion, respectively, according to Forbes.
Would the new owner need to keep the team in Charlotte?
Not necessarily. The Panthers aren't bound to Charlotte beyond the 2018 season, which if nothing else is a nice piece of leverage for a new owner. Even if there is no intent to move, the buyer can use the threat of a relocation to local advantage.
A move? Where are they going to go? Los Angeles is taken.
So is Las Vegas. I'll just put it this way: The NFL doesn't stage games in London and Mexico City every year just for fun.
Fine. When will this all be over?
Owners have their annual league meetings at the end of March, then meet in a less formal setting two months later. Barring unexpected snags, it is reasonable to think that a new owner could be approved at one of those meetings and be running the team by the time training camp opens in July 2018.