Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Colin Kaepernick’s interest in purchasing the Carolina Panthers appears to be far more legitimate than a couple of boastful tweets. Kaepernick and Combs have already discussed the role that the former quarterback might play in Combs’ new-look NFL team. And Combs has also begun reaching out to other wealthy individuals about forming an ownership group.
These two definitely want to own and operate an NFL team, but they have some major obstacles in their way. Most notably: Kaepernick is not the most popular guy right now among NFL executives, and while Diddy might be the richest rapper on the planet, his net worth of just over $800 million pales in comparison with the wealth of the many multibillionaires who own NFL teams.
The Panthers’ estimated net worth is $2.5 billion, and the controlling share that Combs and Kaepernick are interested in buying should cost around $1.3 billion. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is putting his controlling ownership up for sale following sexual-misconduct allegations against him. Combs and Kaepernick alone can’t purchase Richardson’s shares, so these two will need to get creative if they are to create a viable proposal.
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I’m sure that Combs knows enough rich people to cobble together the funds, but the NFL prefers owners who can purchase teams without outside help. Also, he’s not bringing on Kaepernick if he wants to merely create a new revenue stream. Combs obviously wants his team to stand for something. Kaepernick has already told Combs that he’d like the Panthers’ front office to resemble more closely the demographics of NFL players, which is 70 percent African American.
So in this vein of needing to build an innovative ownership structure and wanting to build a football team that is more than just a football team, I think Combs and Kaepernick should look across the Atlantic and apply the approach of one of the world’s greatest soccer teams: F.C. Barcelona.
F.C. Barcelona’s ownership and organizational structure depend on the club’s members. (F.C. stands for “Fútbol Club.”) Barcelona, just like countless other soccer clubs, has always relied on membership for survival. These international and incredibly lucrative soccer teams in many cases started as local athletic clubs that needed membership dues to stay afloat. As soccer has become more lucrative, the financial dependence on membership dues has decreased, but the importance of membership has not.
Members keep the club rooted in their community, and members have various levels of authority within a soccer club. At Barcelona, members elect the president who will run the club. When election season comes, businessmen from all across the city declare their candidacy. They run campaigns and even promise to sign specific players if they are elected. Barcelona’s archrival Real Madrid has a similar structure, and during one particularly contentious election season, Florentino Perez, a candidate for Real Madrid’s presidency, promised to buy Barcelona’s best player—at the time, Luis Figo—if he won. To his surprise, and especially Figo’s, he won, and Figo forever became persona non grata to all Barcelona fans.
At other clubs, members can select representatives to conduct discussions with the top brass of the soccer club. These representatives may not have official power inside the club, but they provide the voice of the fan base to management. And this helps clubs best serve their members.
The potential Combs-and-Kaepernick Panthers haven’t even solidified their organizational structure, so talk of elections might be premature, but membership and membership dues could be an amazing way to raise the funds to buy the team.
And while membership could be a new-look approach to fundraising for American football, which European teams have used for over a century, the biggest lesson from F.C. Barcelona could be that team’s commitment to being more than just a soccer club. Its slogan is “Mes que un club,” or “more than a club,” and F.C. Barcelona legitimately views itself as a symbol of Spain’s Catalan culture.
This year the soccer club has had a significant role in providing a voice for the Catalan people as they discussed their potential independence from Spain, and this is only one of many examples of how this club has become an essential voice in Spanish politics.
During the Spanish Civil War, F.C. Barcelona became a symbol of strength for the Catalan people as they fought against Gen. Francisco Franco. In addition, the Catalan region of Spain speaks Catalan and not Castilian Spanish, and the soccer club has always been a de facto representative of the Catalan language.
F.C. Barcelona even has a page on its official website explaining the importance of its members in forming the identity of the club, as well as the club’s four pillars: Catalan identity, universality, social commitment and democracy. F.C. Barcelona has over 170,000 members.
If Combs and Kaepernick employ Barcelona’s model, they could revolutionize the NFL for the better. Sports and politics are becoming more interwoven by the day, so we need to incorporate models that can allow this dynamic in order to thrive.
Currently, Combs and Kaepernick want to promote a social justice and racial-equity message on the field and in the front office, and membership will allow them to do so throughout their entire fan base. And by being “more than a club,” they could attract members who actually support other teams but love their message. Membership could be as little as $20 a year, and it shouldn’t have any tiers. All members are equal. I’m from Atlanta and support the Falcons, but I’d pay $20 to become a member of the Combs-and-Kaepernick Panthers. I bet a lot of other African Americans would, too.
Also, we can’t forget that the Panthers’ current owner is selling his shares because he’s been accused of sexual misconduct, so incorporating gender equality and combating domestic violence into the stated ethos of the new-look Panthers should be a given.
Currently, my guess is that it’s a long shot for Combs and Kaepernick to control the Panthers, so they need to make their appeal about something more than just money. This team needs to be structured in a way that can benefit society. Most likely, the NFL will reject anything these two send its way, but at least this strategy would put the NFL in a difficult position.
Imagine if Combs and Kaepernick quickly established a membership base of well over 100,000, with each fan committed to giving $20 a year. If the NFL rejected this proposal, it would have openly rejected social justice, racial equity, gender equality and an elevated fan involvement so that it could keep the white-dominated status quo that denies minorities a seat at the table.
The idea of Combs and Kaepernick owning an NFL team is a bold move, and in order for them to see it through, they need an equally bold vision.