CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Initial bids for the sale of the Carolina Panthers are in and four, possibly five, legitimate candidates have emerged. A report by Bloomberg said the bidding already has reached $2.5 billion, which would be a record for a sports franchise in the United States. Sources close to the process question whether that is a legitimate offer or an attempt by bankers to drive up the price. Those sources believe the bids are in the low $2 billion range for the team valued by Forbes at $2.3 billion.
This is where the sale of the Panthers stands heading into the NFL owners meetings that begin on Sunday and run through Wednesday. An update of where things stand is expected during the four days in Orlando, Florida, but nothing more.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who will not attend the meetings as he remains under investigation by the NFL for alleged sexual and racial workplace misconduct, ultimately will decide which bid he wants to accept after several rounds of negotiations.
That could happen as early as next month, meaning the earliest the 32 owners could vote for the required three-fourths approval would be the May 21-23 meetings in Atlanta.
That, at least, is the goal.
Here’s a look at the known current candidates and what could be the current pecking order:
BEN NAVARRO, 54
Net worth: $3 billion (Forbes)
Occupation: Founder and CEO of Sherman Financial Group, a Charleston, South Carolina-based company.
What makes him a strong candidate? Sources told ESPN.com that Navarro’s camp is promoting itself as the front-runner. Navarro is the only candidate with ties to South Carolina since he lives in Charleston and started his empire there. That may be a factor for Richardson, who was born in Spring Hope, North Carolina, and started his empire in Spartanburg, South Carolina, before moving to Charlotte. Richardson wanted the Panthers to be a team of the Carolinas when he founded it in 1993, so Carolina ties mean something to him. Navarro also is financially sound. Sherman Financial Group is a global diversified financial services company based in Charleston, South Carolina. The company’s principal business is serving consumer credit needs through its subsidiary, Credit One Bank N.A., a federally regulated national bank. Credit One is the ninth-largest issuer of Visa- and Mastercard-branded credit cards in the U.S. and accounts for more than 90 percent of Sherman Financial Group’s revenue and earnings. In addition, Sherman Financial Group purchases and manages consumer debt; manages investments in corporate debt, real estate and structured credit; and is the owner of Kroll Bond Rating Agency, the nation’s largest post-financial crisis rating agency. He privately funds Meeting Street Schools, which is a non-profit educational venture in South Carolina that brings a network of independent and public schools educational opportunities. There is a Meeting Street Academy in Spartanburg, where again Richardson lived much of his adult life. Therefore, Navarro is good on the philanthropy end.
What are the risks? The litigious nature of the industry that Navarro built his empire around could be a concern for owners. The company buys delinquent consumer debt, much from credit cards and bills. In 2014, Sherman had to pay $175,000 after New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman charged the company with unlawful debt collection.
Did you know? His father, Frank Navarro, was the head football coach at Columbia and Princeton. ... He graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in finance and at one time worked for Goldman Sachs. ... He has a wife, Kelly, and four children.
DAVID TEPPER, 60
Net worth: $11 billion (Forbes)
Occupation: Founder Miami-based global hedge fund firm Appaloosa Management
What makes him a strong candidate? Tepper arguably is the greatest hedge fund manager of this generation. He already is a minority owner (5 percent) of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so NFL owners are familiar with him. His business portfolio may be the strongest/safest of all the candidates when seeking approval from the league. He also has a strong philanthropy résumé, particularly in areas where he has lived. He donated $3 million this past year to help with hurricane relief in Puerto Rico and Texas. When Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey coast in 2012, he gave out 12,000 $100 gift cards to people in need in 20 different communities. He supports Teach for America.
What are the risks? He would have to sell his interest in the Steelers if he wins the bid, but that’s not a deal-breaker. Overall, not much of a risk at all, which is why he is considered one of the front-runners.
Did you know? He grew up in a lower- to middle-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh and got a degree in economics from the University of Pittsburgh. ... Early in his career he worked as a credit analyst at Goldman Sachs. ... He has a set of brass balls, a gift from a former employee, mounted in Appaloosa’s office with a plaque that says, "Most Valuable Set of All Time." ... Selected the name of his company out of a horse book after being told Pegasus was taken.
ALAN KESTENBAUM, 56
Net worth: Unknown (company valued at about $1.3 billion)
Occupation: Chairman and chief executive officer of Stelco Holdings Inc., Canada-based steel company.
What makes him a strong candidate? He is believed to have the backing of Canadian billionaire Jim Pattison as a minority partner. He’s viewed as a global businessman, which could be a factor for a league looking to be more global in London and Mexico. Solid track record of buying and turning around struggling metal companies.
What are the risks? This would be his first venture in the sports world. In 2011, it was reported that Iron Mining Group Inc., with Kestenbaum as its chairman, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Otherwise, there appears to be no real risk.
Did you know? He was born in Brooklyn and got his degree from Yeshiva University, a private, non-profit Jewish research university in New York City. ... He currently lives in Florida.
MICHAEL RUBIN, 45
Net worth: $3 billion (Forbes)
Occupation: Chief executive officer of Kynetic, a direct-to-consumer e-commerce company that includes Fanatics, the world’s leading online seller of licensed sports merchandising. The minority owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils.
What makes him a strong candidate? A solid reputation in the business world, beginning with selling GSI Commerce to eBay for $2.4 billion. He’s also not afraid to use his platform for things he believes in. He reportedly used his influence to get rapper Meek Mill, serving two to four years in prison for a controversial probation violation, out of jail. With the league in need of newer and younger blood, he would be the second-youngest owner in the league behind San Francisco’s Jed York, 37. Has the support of billionaire businessman Joseph Tsai. He wants to form a diverse ownership group that could include rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs and Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry, a Charlotte native.
What are the risks? He would have to sell his stakes in the 76ers, Devils and Premier League soccer franchise Crystal Palace, according to NFL rules. And his ties to the NBA in general could be a stumbling block, but none of these things make him a high risk.
Did you know? In 2010, he appeared in the first season of CBS TV’s "Undercover Boss." ... When his identity was revealed, he gave an employee struggling with the recent loss of a child $10,000 so the employee and the baby’s mother could have a dream wedding. ... Bought a Porsche before he was old enough to drive. ... A dropout at Villanova after six weeks. ... Lives in the Philadelphia area where he grew up.
JIM GOODNIGHT, 75
Net worth: $9.7 billion (Forbes)
Occupation: Co-founder and CEO of SAS, a North Carolina-based software company.
What makes him a strong candidate? It has not been verified that he has made an official bid like the other four. He falls under the category of interested. But his ties to North Carolina -- born in Salisbury and graduate of NC State -- might be something that attracts Richardson. He also has a strong interest in improving education, particularly elementary and secondary education, which is a strong need in North Carolina. He helped found independent prep school Cary Academy on the SAS campus in the Raleigh area.
What are the risks? Like others, there is no indication of Goodnight having something in his past that would be considered an inherent risk.
Did you know? He grew up working at his parent’s hardware store in Wilmington, North Carolina. ... He was a high school basketball player at 6-foot-4. ... Began his career in the NASA Apollo space program midway through his graduate studies in statistics at NC State. ... He returned to North Carolina and became a member of the faculty at NC State. ... He has a rather significant mineral collection.