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Carolina Panthers finalize terms to sell franchise to David Tepper

David Tepper, the hedge fund billionaire who is the new owner of the Carolina Panthers, claims, according to a 2010 profile in New York Magazine, to have popularized the phrase "It is what it is." That should mean he will fit right in with NFL coaches, who use the cliché as a default response to avoid saying anything more illuminating.

Tepper will also fit in with his new partners, the NFL owners who will approve his purchase of the Panthers from Jerry Richardson for $2.275 billion, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. Tepper, whose net worth has been projected by Forbes at $11 billion, was not the highest bidder for the team -- The New York Times reported that Ben Navarro, who runs an investment firm, offered $2.6 billion -- that went on the market at the end of the 2017 season. The sale price, though, is a record for an NFL franchise and easily eclipses the $1.4 billion Terry and Kim Pegula paid for the Buffalo Bills just four years ago.

"Bringing the Panthers and the NFL to the Carolinas in 1993 was enormously fulfilling for Rosalind and me and all of our partners," Richardson said in a statement. "We are deeply grateful for the outpouring of support over the last 25 years. You have taken the Panthers into your hearts and made them part of this warm and supportive community. We want to thank all of our past and present players, coaches and staff for their hard work in making the Panthers a great success both on the field and in the community. The personal relationships we have enjoyed have been very meaningful to us.

"I look forward to turning the stewardship of the Panthers over to David Tepper. I have enjoyed getting to know him in this process and am confident that he will provide the organization with great leadership in both its football and community initiatives. I wish David and his family the very best as they enter this exciting new phase of their lives."

Tepper had been considered the favorite to land the team and was the preferred choice of many other owners because he has enough money to buy the Panthers without other investors and because, as a minority stakeholder in his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers, he has already been vetted by the NFL. That virtually ensures that Tepper, who must sell his five percent share of the Steelers to comply with NFL rules, will be easily approved when owners vote on the sale at their regularly scheduled Spring League Meeting next week in Atlanta.

"I am thrilled to have been selected to be the next owner of the Carolina Panthers," Tepper said in a statement. "I have learned a great deal about the community and the team over the past several months and look forward to becoming part of the Carolinas. I want to thank Jerry Richardson and the other Panthers partners for all they have done to establish and develop the NFL in the Carolinas. It has been a remarkable 25-year journey and I promise to build upon the Panthers' success on the field and in the community."

Tepper's purchase concludes a remarkable fall from grace for Richardson. A former player himself, Richardson was the founding owner of the franchise, which began play in 1995. There is a statue of him outside Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, and Richardson once wielded considerable influence in league matters. But he abruptly announced he would sell the team last December, after the NFL took over an investigation into workplace misconduct allegations against him that were detailed in a Sports Illustrated story. Shortly after putting the team on the market, Richardson ceded day-to-day control of the team to chief operating officer Tina Becker.

It is unclear if Becker, who has not spoken to reporters since, will have a role with the team after Tepper takes over. But the investigation into Richardson, which is being led by former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White, is expected to continue, in part because the NFL wants a new owner to have a full accounting of the existing workplace culture and because the league hopes to use the findings to inform guidelines for other teams.

Rapoport has reported that Tepper intends to keep the team in Charlotte and to keep the football braintrust -- general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera -- intact. New owners, though, typically make changes to the non-football part of the franchise, although Tepper has not made his plans known.

Tepper, 60, immediately becomes one of the NFL's wealthiest owners. The middle of three children, he grew up in a middle-class family in Pittsburgh -- his father was an accountant, his mother a public school teacher. According to New York Magazine, he played football and memorized statistics on the back of baseball cards, and as a child, he told people he was going to be rich. He studied economics at the University of Pittsburgh (he helped pay his way through school with a job at one of the university's libraries) and earned an MBA from Carnegie Mellon, where the business school was later named for him after he and his wife donated $55 million. Among other places, he worked at Goldman Sachs, but after the firm declined to make him a partner -- in part, New York Magazine suggested, because of his outspoken personality -- he struck out on his own, forming, in 1993, Appaloosa Management, a global hedge fund that now manages approximately $17 billion and specializes in distressed properties, earning Tepper a reputation as one of the greatest hedge fund managers of his generation.

Tepper has made so much money that his 2015 move from New Jersey to Florida made headlines, because, as the state's wealthiest resident, Tepper's departure meant the loss of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in income tax revenue to the state, a concern for those charged with New Jersey's budget. But in the New York Magazine profile, one of his friends describe Tepper as "the billionaire next door," and Tepper proudly showed the reporter his empty wallet, because he so rarely has cash on hand.

Still, the magazine said he hired singer Ashlee Simpson to perform at his daughter's bat mitzvah and had Sheryl Crow perform at his own 50th birthday party. And he paid $43.5 million for a home in the Hamptons that was owned by the former wife of the man who passed him over for partner at Goldman Sachs -- the former New Jersey governor, Jon Corzine. Then Tepper razed the home and built one twice its size. The story also noted that Tepper was given a pair of brass testicles -- affixed to a plaque -- by a former employee to honor a particularly big deal. The offices of the hedge fund were described as looking like a high-end sports bar, complete with Steelers memorabilia. That décor is likely about to be changed.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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