M&A: Inside the Carolina Panthers Acquisition

This event saw Charles Baker, the lawyer who recently represented David Tepper during his

acquisition of the Carolina Panthers, being interviewed by Rob DiGisi, who teachers Sports

Business Management at The Wharton School. Baker first gave the audience some insight into

how he became involved in the world of sports business and explained that initially he was not

in the industry at all. Although he was interested in sport, playing at the collegiate level, he

initially became an M&A lawyer, focusing on hostile takeovers. His break into the sports world

came in 2009, when he represented Stephen Ross as he became the majority owner of the

Miami Dolphins. It was this deal that introduced Baker to the world of sports professionally,

and hence afterwards he began to seek out similar transactions, eventually leading him to

become one of the top lawyers in the business of buying and selling sports teams.

Baker then went on to explain more about the industry in general, revealing that there are

more sports teams for sale than we would imagine. Although often we only hear about teams

becoming for sale after scandals involving the owner, for example the Carolina Panthers or the

Los Angeles Clippers some years prior, lots of teams are for sale to the right person at the right

price. This is only concerning majority stakes in teams, as Baker revealed that minority stakes

are frequently changing hands.

The audience was then treated to an inside understanding of the Carolina Panthers deal, with

Baker explaining that as soon as the news broke about Jerry Richardson there were

immediately interested buyers making calls. One reason why the response was so immediate

was that many people already had their eyes on the Panthers, having identified the

organization as one that was likely to be on the market soon if the owner were to pass away.

Representing David Tepper, Baker tried to get in early and finalize a deal as quickly as possible

in order to keep the deal out of the public eye and prevent getting other buyers interested. His

attempts were not immediately successful, as from both Jerry Richardson’s and the NFL’s point

of view it would be beneficial for the sale to be high profile and almost turn into a public

auction.

However, eventually, Baker and Tepper were successful, as on May 22nd , 2018 David Tepper

became the new owner of the Carolina Panthers. Tepper was already familiar to the NFL, having

already been a minority owner of his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. His day job sees him

manage an $11 billion-dollar hedge fund, particularly known for buying underperforming

assets. He takes his mindset from his professional life into all his investments, and despite being

a big sports fan would not invest in something unless he thought it was great value, which is

what he saw in the Carolina Panthers for a number of reasons. Firstly, he realized that although

the team is called the Carolina Panthers, they are only really marketed in Charlotte, hence

Tepper believes that there is significant room for growth. The other major reason is that the

team is not operated as a business, perhaps best shown by the fact that the Panthers are the

only team in the NFL not to have their own logo on the field.

After concluding his insight on the Carolina Panthers deal, Baker shared his views on what the

future would hold for the industry, first highlighting the growth of the MLS. He explained that

ten years ago it cost $30 million-dollars to create an expansion team, but now the cost is $150

million. The MLS has become very in-demand, with several parties interested in purchasing an

expansion team, many of whom already own another team or own a stadium. They view soccer

as a great way to further increase their profits, as there is a much higher frequency of games

and hence more opportunities to make money at their stadium.

To finish off the event, Baker shared his final thoughts on international owners in American

sports. He explained that leagues are keen to find more foreign owners for their teams, as well

as identifying the sports that he felt would become big in the future. He listed rugby, cycling

and cricket since these sports all have large international followings, but they have yet to break

into the American market. He also mentioned lacrosse because there is sufficient interest in the

sport in the United States but no major league.

Finn Teoh

USBC Journal Writer

Class of 2022