Alibaba co-founder Tsai said to join bid for NFL’s Panthers

Joseph Tsai, Executive Vice Chairman of Alibaba Group, speaks at the Wall Street Journal Digital Conference in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai has joined the Michael Rubin-led group trying to buy the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers, according to people familiar with the deal.

Tsai would be a limited partner in the group, said the people, who requested anonymity because the matter is private. It wouldn’t be Tsai’s first foray into U.S. sports: Last year he agreed to buy a 49 percent stake in the Brooklyn Nets with the option to take control of the NBA franchise in 2021.

Tsai and e-commerce billionaire Rubin declined to comment. The process is being overseen by Allen & Co. banker Steve Greenberg, who also presided over Tsai’s purchase of the Nets.

The men are competing against other bidders for a team that Forbes values at $2.3 billion. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson put the team up for sale in December after the NFL took over an investigation into workplace harassment allegations against the longtime owner. Prospective bidders had until Monday to submit what are called declarations of interest to the seller, the people said. The number of declarations offered isn’t known.

Rubin already has ties to the NFL. He’s the executive chairman of sports-apparel company Fanatics, whose stakeholders include the NFL. The company is also runs the NFL’s online store and works with many of the franchises. He holds minority stakes in the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, NHL’s New Jersey Devils, and English Soccer’s Crystal Palace team.

NFL rules would require Rubin to hold at least a 30 percent stake in the team, meaning he’d need about $690 million, based on the Forbes valuation. Tsai isn’t one to be turned around by high price tags: He bought his share of the Nets at an NBA record $2.3 billion valuation in a deal that hasn’t closed yet. Tsai also bought the National Lacrosse League franchise in San Diego last year.

Other Bidders

Others bidders for the Panthers are Appaloosa Management LP founder David Tepper, who has a minority stake in the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, and Ben Navarro, whose finance company caters to subprime borrowers.

Felix Sabates, an investor in basketball’s Charlotte Hornets, has said he’s open to joining a bid group after abandoning a plan to put together his own locally driven offer alongside race track executive Marcus Smith, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Current Panthers owner Richardson won an NFL championship as a receiver with the old Baltimore Colts and later made his fortune in the fast-food business before winning an expansion franchise for Charlotte.

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