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Potential Panthers bidder's partners? Another billionaire, maybe Diddy, Stephen Curry

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 3/13/2018 By Rick Rothacker and Jim Morrill, The Charlotte Observer

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Michael Rubin, the e-commerce billionaire who is considering a bid for the Carolina Panthers, has lined up a deep-pocketed partner: the billionaire minority owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, Joseph Tsai, sources familiar with the matter told the Observer.

Two sources told the Observer that rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs is also joining Rubin's group, and another source said the owner of the Fanatics sports merchandise retailer is looking to build a diverse group that could include Combs as well as NBA star Steph Curry.

Three sources said Rubin has no plans to move the team out of Charlotte if he is chosen as the new owner. The sources talked on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the sales process.

The group hopes its high-profile minority partners appeal to the NFL and other owners who have to approve any sale, the sources said. In January, National Urban League President Marc Morial urged the NFL to consider an African-American ownership group for the Carolina Panthers, saying "it is time for a change."

Owner Jerry Richardson announced plans to put the team up for sale in December, on the day an explosive Sports Illustrated report alleging workplace sexual and racial misconduct by Richardson became public.

Potential bidders were required to submit their "indications of interest" by Monday to the bank hired by the Panthers to run the sale, New York-based Allen & Co. Rubin's group made a submission, a source told the Observer.

The Observer has previously reported that March was going to be "the action month" in the sale process, and that a winning bid could be selected as early as the end of March or early April. That scenario would mean NFL team owners would vote to approve the sale during their May 21-23 meetings in Atlanta. A successful bid requires approval by two-thirds of the league's 32 team owners.

Other potential owners reported so far include Pittsburgh Steelers minority owner and hedge fund manager David Tepper and Charleston's Ben Navarro, whose diverse financial services company includes a fast-growing credit card unit that caters to largely subprime borrowers.

The Observer reported Sunday that Rubin, who is also minority owner of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL's New Jersey Devils, was looking into a bid. Tsai's name began surfacing later this week as a potential partner.

The co-founder of Alibaba, China's biggest online retailer, Tsai is a billionaire who recently bought a 49 percent stake in the Nets. According to Forbes, the Yale graduate has a net worth of $10.5 billion. He could not be reached for comment.

Although Forbes lists Rubin's net worth as $3 billion, sources have told the Observer he likely would not have the ability to buy the team on his own.

Combs was one of the first individuals to express interest in buying the team as soon as Richardson announced he would sell. In December, the rapper posted an Instagram video where he said, "I will be the best NFL owner that you can imagine. I will immediately address the Colin Kaepernick situation and put him in the running for next year's starting quarterback."

Combs also posted a picture of himself on Twitter wearing a Panthers' jersey and said, "It's time!"

Kaepernick was the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who sat out last year after starting a wave of player protests by kneeling during the national anthem. He once told NFL Media that he wasn't going to "stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

In February, Curry declined to say whether he is actively involved in a deal, or with whom he is working, simply that the process is "ongoing."

The sale has raised concerns that a new owner might look to move the team or seek taxpayer funding for a new stadium. Moving a team isn't easy, though. The NFL requires teams that move to get approval of two-thirds of the owners and pay a relocation fee that can exceed $500 million.

A local ownership group involving businessman Felix Sabates that has been considering a bid could be looking to partner with another group rather than making an offer of its own, a source familiar with the matter said. Sabates has said his group includes NASCAR drivers and current minority partners, but it's not clear if he has a partner who could afford the 30 percent stake required for a majority owner.


Staff writer Katherine Peralta contributed.

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