Saints Build Statue Of Man Who Tried To Move The Team

The Saints and Pelicans surprised owner Tom Benson with a 13.5-foot bronze statue outside of the Superdome, a venerable and iconic arena that nine years ago Benson tried to get declared unusable after Hurricane Katrina in an attempt to break his lease and relocate the Saints to San Antonio.

"It's no exaggeration to say the New Orleans Saints wouldn't be in Louisiana...if it hadn't been for their leadership, their commitment or their generosity," said Gov. Bobby Jindal, one of a number of speakers that included coach Sean Payton, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, and the Archbishop of New Orleans.

Look at the top photo on the Times-Picayune story, taken at the moment of the unveiling.

That's Benson, in the wheelchair, breaking down as he sees himself unexpectedly immortalized in twice-life-sized bronze, immortalized as a civic hero for having made sound business decisions. It's a feeling you can really only know if you own a sports franchise. This photo is the spiritual sequel to Mark Cuban and his lawyers yukking it up after being cleared of insider trading.

Here is a partial list of stories and occurrences that were not mentioned at yesterday's unveiling:

USA Today, June 1, 2001

Benson wants a new $ 450,000,000, 65,000-seat stadium to replace the Superdome, which he has called "dingy and depressing." And if he doesn't get it, Benson says he will look to Los Angeles, Toronto, San Antonio or Portland for deals.

Houston Chronicle, July 7, 2001

Less than a week after Saints' negotiators declared an impasse and walked out of a meeting in Baton Rouge, team and state officials will meet again Monday in an effort to reduce the chasm that has existed since negotiations began Feb. 7. The two sides remain far apart, and the state is expected to make a counter proposal to what the Saints called their "final offer."

Dallas Morning News, Aug. 18, 2001.

Mr. Benson, a San Antonio car dealer who bought the Saints in the mid-'80s, has said the state has let the stadium deteriorate and has threatened to take the team to Mississippi if he is able to swing the right deal. He says with about $350 million of the state's money, a new stadium in New Orleans would allow fans to enjoy better views and, if they have the money, luxury seating.

New Orleans CityBusiness, Nov. 19, 2001

Saints owner Tom Benson has his hand out and is looking for ways to sweeten his deal with the Superdome. An apparent agreement negotiated last month with the city and state outlining concessions and upgrades to the stadium may not be good enough to keep Benson satisfied, according to reports out last week.

Baltimore Sun, Sept. 1, 2005

Consider that the city had to borrow money the past two years to make its annual payments to the team under the lease negotiated by the previous governor of Louisiana, Mike Foster.

Consider also that the Saints are due another $15 million from the city after this season, $20 million after both the 2006 and 2007 seasons, and more than $70 million in three seasons after that.

And then remember that Saints owner Tom Benson had been seeking a new stadium. Absent that, he grew so frustrated in negotiations with current Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco that he broke off talks in April and only recently attempted to restart them.

Benson has repeatedly said he doesn't want to leave New Orleans. But he also suggested he might have to sell or move the franchise if he can't get more revenue to keep his franchise competitive.

New Orleans Times-Picayune, Sept. 4, 2005

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson is leaning strongly toward moving the Saints permanently to San Antonio following the devastation to the city and the Superdome by Hurricane Katrina, a state senator who has spoken with a top team official said Saturday.

Associated Press, Oct. 17, 2005

Mayor Phil Hardberger reiterated his resolve to bring the Saints to San Antonio permanently, saying he wanted to close the deal before next season begins.

Hardberger, part of a sellout crowd at the Saints-Falcons game Sunday in San Antonio, said Sunday that Saints owner Tom Benson agreed to serious talks with him, probably at the end of this season.

Benson "understands that we will sit down and talk," Hardberger was quoted as saying in a story in Monday's San Antonio Express-News. "That is his desire as well. I'm pretty comfortable in saying he wants to be here."

New Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 18, 2005

In a move that could signal the Saints' intentions, team owner Tom Benson on Monday fired his chief administrator, Arnold Fielkow.

Fielkow, who was in his sixth year with the organization and a member of the team's board of directors, was known to be a strong supporter of the Saints returning to New Orleans as soon as the city's Superdome facility, damaged during Hurricane Katrina, is repaired or replaced.

Last month, as the Saints were settling into new training quarters at the Alamodome, Fielkow warned Louisiana state officials that Benson was considering permanent relocation. Team sources said Fielkow was dismissed for opposing Benson's desire to explore relocation options.

New Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 18, 2005

Benson, on the other hand, owes New Orleans. He owes fans that have supported his franchise since he bought it in 1985. He owes a region, the Gulf Coast, which has been faithful to him despite his continued threats and flirtations with relocation, despite the fact that in his first 20 years as owner, his teams have had nine losing records, four seasons of 8-8 and one playoff victory.

He owes a state that has sweetened his pot every time he has gone to the bargaining table looking to upgrade his lease agreement.

But he seems to be in no mood to show allegiance to anything farther away than his wallet.

"I'm not going to make any comments about it until the end of the season," Benson said Sunday, which pretty much says all any of us needs to know. Because it would have been just as easy to squash speculation and commit to New Orleans and its rebuilding effort — something Benson should be familiar with, as many times as fans have been asked to be patient with his team's rebuilding efforts — as it was to refuse comment until the end of the season.

Associated Press, Oct. 19, 2005

"We want our Saints, we may not want the owner back," [mayor Ray] Nagin said while attending the reopening of Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter.

"I'm ready to go to the NFL and to (commissioner Paul) Tagliabue and say, 'Give us the Cleveland plan,' " Nagin added, referring to the league awarding Cleveland an expansion team almost immediately after the Browns moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season. "Whatever the Saints want to do, you let them leave, but they can't take our logo, they can't take our name, and you give us a promise to give us a franchise when this city's back."

Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said he had no comment on the matter.

"For them to be openly talking to other cities about moving is disrespectful to the citizens of New Orleans, disrespectful to the Saints fans who have hung in with this franchise through 30-something years under very trying times," Nagin said.

San Antonio Express-News, Oct. 21, 2005

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson plans to void his lease agreement for the Louisiana Superdome by declaring the facility unusable, sources close to the Saints' organization say.

[...]

Benson has the option to invoke a "force majeure" clause in the Saints' lease agreement with the state of Louisiana, which operates the Superdome.

The clause gives him the right to void the lease, without penalty, if he claims an "act of God" has rendered the stadium unusable for the team's games.

But sources say Benson is more concerned about New Orleans' damaged economy than he is the status of the Superdome. Benson, sources say, believes he can make more money in San Antonio than in Baton Rouge, where the Saints will play four games this season.

Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans on Aug. 29, flooding the city and seriously damaging the Superdome.

New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dec. 19, 2005

The black-and-gold fans who were told all season to have faith were losing their belief Sunday the organization would remain in its home state. One sign read: "Ho, Ho, Ho, Please Saints, Don't Geaux."

It was the last of four games in Louisiana this season and possibly ever if owner Tom Benson relocates the team to San Antonio, where the franchise been based since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Saints coach Jim Haslett reminded the media at his postgame press conference the franchise's future in New Orleans is not secure.

Haslett stopped one reporter when questioned about the last scheduled Louisiana game. He cut in: "Maybe ever."

New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dec. 30, 2005

Benson has remained tight-lipped about his intentions, but privately he's told staff and associates he'd like to keep the team in San Antonio and is willing to fight the league if necessary.

Associated Press, Jan. 12, 2006

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue expects the New Orleans Saints to play all their home games at the Superdome next season.

Tagliabue also sought to reassure the community during a visit to the city on Wednesday that the NFL is not moving the Saints back for a single season to make the league appear sympathetic to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

...

Benson said he is committed to New Orleans "forever, as long as the community commits to me."

Associated Press, Apr. 30, 2009

The New Orleans Saints agreed to a lease extension that will keep the NFL team playing home games in an improved Louisiana Superdome through the 2025 season.

Bloomberg, Jan. 31, 2013

State Treasurer John Neely Kennedy said he felt like he was negotiating with "a gun against my head," over a deal he described in a telephone interview as "lashed together with baling wire and Band-Aids."

[...]

"A lot of folks in New York made a ton of money," Kennedy said. "Louisiana taxpayers didn't do so well."

Forbes, July 31, 2013

New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson became known as the billionaire betting on a struggling state. Now the richest man in Louisiana — worth $1.2 billion — Benson is set to rake in an estimated $392 million from state subsidies through 2025.

Four years ago, he negotiated one of the most complex — and lucrative — stadium lease agreements in the NFL, adding to his fortune as his team was bringing in estimated yearly profits of $31 million. Over 15 years, the term of the lease, the state will pay Benson at least $198 million in increased revenue from the Superdome, $142 million in rental payments on property Benson owns, $10 million in bonuses for bringing the Super Bowl to New Orleans and $2.6 million in tax breaks. Benson will get another $40 million from private rent payments to a tower he bought as part of the deal.

The agreement was fully implemented for the first time last season. Because of the complexity of the deal, it has only recently become apparent how much Benson will make from it.

Never love a sports owner, because they are incapable of loving you back.

[Times-Picayune]