This wealthy S.C. businessman is 'actively exploring' bid to purchase Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers are up for sale following an NFL investigation into workplace misconduct by current owner Jerry Richardson's behavior, an investigation that began as a Panthers-run venture but was quickly taken over by the league. And a prospective owner has emerged, according to a report from Jordan Rodrigue and Katie Peralta of the Charlotte Observer.

Ben Navarro, a former Citigroup executive who now runs a Charleston-based debt collection firm, is "actively exploring a bid" for the Panthers franchise.

The price will not be cheap: CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported the franchise will probably not hit the $2.5 billion mark when it's sold, but that the Panthers should fetch more than $2 billion on the open market.

Much speculation has circulated about potential owners since the decision to sell by Richardson was announced; Diddy threw his name in the hat, but is an unlikely candidate to realistically purchase the Panthers.

Navarro is the head of Sherman Financial Group and would be dipping his toe into professional football ownership for the first time.

Some facts about the potential owner, courtesy of the Observer:

  • Sherman Financial settled a case in 2014 with the state of New York for "repeatedly bringing improper debt collection actions against New York consumers." Basically, per the NY Attorney General, Sherman filed a suit after the statute of limitations had passed. They were forced to pay a $175,000 penalty and "improve its debt collections practices."
  • Navarro's father, Frank Navarro, coached both the Princeton and Colombia football teams. 
  • Navarro's oldest daughter (he and his wife Kelly have four children) is a star tennis player who trains at LTP Tennis and Swim Club (owned by Navarro) and has committed to play at Duke. 
  • Navarro owns a $3 million home on Charleston's Broad Street. It's a nice little neighborhood. 
  • Navarro "privately funds" Meeting Street Schools, "a nonprofit educational" that runs a public school under private management in "a low-income part of North Charleston." It opened the school in 2014. 
  • Sherman Financial brought in a whopping $2 billion in revenue in 2016, the Observer said, citing reports. Buying the Panthers would require the majority owner to write a check for north of $700 million at the time of sale.

If you distill all that surface stuff down, he makes a lot of sense as a possible Panthers owner. He apparently has some aggressive business practices, he knows the game as a coach's son, he has a lot of money, he has local real estate ties, he will have future local family ties (Duke is private, but still in North Carolina), he has local charitable ties and, most importantly, he has lots of money.

Having said all that, there is a LONG way to go before he simply takes over the team. There needs to be a group created to purchase the Panthers, the group needs to be approved by the current NFL owners, etc. etc. 

It is also worth noting that Richardson controls who takes over the team, so there is no absolute way to predict which direction he'll go when it comes to selecting a new buyer and new ownership.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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