In a sign that Sean “Diddy” Combs is serious about making a push to buy the Carolina Panthers, the hip-hop mogul is moving to set meetings with potential investors in hopes of shaping a prospective ownership group, two sources familiar with Combs told Yahoo Sports. Those efforts are expected to include the involvement of Colin Kaepernick, who had a lengthy call with Combs to discuss the former NFL quarterback’s role in forming an ownership group.
Combs declared Sunday that he hoped to purchase an NFL team shortly after Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced he would be putting his controlling share of the franchise up for sale. Kaepernick echoed Combs’ interest Sunday and began moving forward with plans this week. According to a source close to the quarterback, Kaepernick has already begun reaching out to a handful of business leaders, venture capitalists and sports icons to discuss an ownership group. The source close to Kaepernick said the quarterback had a “shared vision” with Combs about creating an ownership group that more closely represents the racial makeup of the league’s players, which is about 70 percent African-American. To date, the NFL has never had an African-American majority owner.
“The interest is real and it’s moving forward,” the source said of Combs and Kaepernick working together. “They want to make this a reality. It’s serious.”
Combs has said he was interested in owning an NFL franchise, but the opportunity, timing and finances failed to align. That has apparently changed with the controlling share of the Panthers suddenly appearing on the market. Richardson’s abrupt move comes in the midst of a workplace misconduct investigation by the NFL, following a Sports Illustrated report alleging that the Panthers owner engaged in multiple acts of workplace misconduct.
While Richardson has full control of the Panthers, his family owns only 48 percent of the franchise, with the remainder possessed by a collection of investment partners. However, a league source told Yahoo Sports that the sale of Richardson’s percentage is expected to constitute a controlling share, based on the power structure established by the founding partnership. In essence, anyone purchasing Richardson’s 48 percent would take over control of the franchise.
That’s apparently what Combs is aiming for, although it’s unclear if he has the funds necessary to make the purchase outright. In September, Forbes tagged the Panthers as the 21st most valuable franchise in the NFL, with a valuation of $2.3 billion. Given the bump that franchise values typically experience in sale situations, a 100 percent sale of the Panthers would likely be estimated to cash out at $2.5 billion or more – projecting Richardson’s controlling 48 percent stake somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion.
Based on Forbes’ financial projections, that price tag would seemingly put an outright purchase beyond Combs’ reach. Earlier this year, Forbes pegged Combs’ net worth at $820 million. That figure is not meant to signify liquid assets. Instead, it’s a best-guess number based on Combs’ earnings and investments in the music, entertainment and fashion industry, as well as significant stakes in various beverage and business industries. For Combs to purchase the Panthers largely on his own, it’s likely he would have to either liquidate or leverage a significant number of his investments, while also taking out loans to cover the remaining cost.
Given the recent history of NFL team purchases, there is a strong indication that the league’s ownership fraternity prefers buyers who don’t need to leverage franchise purchases with loans or extravagantly fractured ownership groups. That would explain why the latest exchanges have fallen into the hands of multibillionaires like the Los Angeles Rams’ Stan Kroenke (in 2010) Jacksonville Jaguars Shad Khan (2012), and Buffalo Bills’ Terry and Kim Pegula (2014) – all of whom carried a net wealth that could cover the cost of their NFL franchise purchase multiple times over.
Standing alone, Combs may not be able to bring that to the table. But he brings some diversity the ownership group lacks, along with a high-profile business persona that is well-known among at least some of the current NFL ownership fraternity. Most notably New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who told TMZ on Monday that he appreciated Combs’ business acumen.
“I’m a big fan of Diddy,” Kraft said. “You ask him. I’m a big fan of his. … He’s a good businessman. He’s a very good businessman and I have a lot of respect for Diddy.”
Whether that respect would translate to Combs’ pursuit of an NFL franchise remains to be seen. If Combs can’t swing an outright purchase of Richardson’s share of the Panthers on his own, the remainder of the potential ownership group would be of vital importance. While Combs’ net worth could put him in the conversation, it’s likely he would have to add at least one other significant investor to his effort, if not a handful.
That may be part of where Kaepernick fits. Perhaps not financially, but in the range of influence. If the sales pitch is to create the league’s most diverse ownership group of an NFL franchise, that is something that is certain to draw ears. And the reality is despite Kaepernick’s existence as a lightning rod among fans or even NFL owners, he and Combs have the profile to get the attention of high-profile minority investors they may seek.
Kaepernick still has a grievance against the NFL and its owners for allegedly conspiring to freeze him out of a job. Some of the same owners who would have to approve a sale to a Combs-led ownership group are some of the individuals who are turning over cellphone records and setting deposition dates in the Kaepernick grievance.
It remains to be seen what impact that could have on any ownership efforts. For now, the Kaepernick grievance and his hopeful involvement in a Panthers ownership group appear to be running parallel tracks. One source close to Kaepernick said there are no plans to drop the grievance or let it be influenced by the quest to buy the Panthers. Time will tell whether one of those things ends up influencing the other in the coming weeks or months.
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