Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Nov 2005

Benson May Be Right to Leave New Orleans

Our old friend Bob Cook takes on the controversial issue of the New Orleans Saints. As he points out, why does it matter if Tom Benson is a jerk? The real question is: what is the future of the city of New Orleans? The Saints are really no different from any number of businesses that are going to have to decide whether they are going back to a city that will take a long time to rebuild and will be significantly smaller when the rebuilding is done. If I remember correctly, polls say roughly 40 percent of residents aren't planning on going back.

Len Pasquarelli, oddly enough, wrote about this today as well. It's a little strange for me, I must admit, because I was supposed to write an article on these same lines two months ago for The New Republic. But as many of you know, my life intervened, and by the time I was able to return to work I was too busy to take the time for extra freelance articles.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 04 Nov 2005

13 comments, Last at 05 Nov 2005, 6:12pm by Israel


by geoff (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 6:35pm

I've been kind of surprised that the NFL has been this tin-eared about the situation. Everyone was quick to credit the Saints with healing powers when they beat Carolina, but now no one seems to believe the same thing can happen long-term.

The Saints were recipients of lots of corporate welfare over the years, and honoring the spirit of that, if nothing else, should rein in Benson's desire (or, at least, the league's desire) to high-tail it out of there.

If New Orleans in 2010 isn't large enough to support a franchise, then they can move - there's no real advantage to moving now. I just don't see the point in the rush to move now, besides the naked blind greed of an old man (and, if it happens, 24 unindicted co-conspiritors)

by Vinny Lo (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 7:25pm

If I remember correctly, polls say roughly 40 percent of residents aren’t planning on going back.

And of course no one who didn't live there before will ever move there, and those that do move back won't reproduce.

by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 7:54pm

#1 has a point; the league owners are going to want to realize as much revenue as possible. That's not going to happen with a New Orleans-based team right now.

#2 -- I can tell you how much disposable income gets sucked up by reproducing. Unless you're expecting hordes of 5-year-olds to buy season tickets, people having babies aren't going to affect the bottom line at all.

What's about to happen to New Orleans stinks to high heaven, and it shouldn't happen to anyone. But as long as the league exists as a business venture, which is what it is at heart, the current franchise will be gone. Tagliabue's statements have left the wiggle room for a Cleveland maneuver, but he can't and won't commit publicly to it until Benson makes the first move. That's the lawyer in him. There may also be a chance that the league is trying to pressure Benson to relocate to LA, rather than San Antonio.

by Kuato (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 8:00pm

I have such mixed emotions about this issue:

On one hand, the city needs all the good things that come with a team . . . something to rally around, a national media attention getter, the feeling of a return to "normalcy," etc, etc, ect.

On the other hand, I wonder if spending a hundred million dollars (or however much it is going to cost to fix up the stadium) so that one guy can make money is the best use of the limited resources of the city and state at this point?

What would be amazing is if the city could somehow take over ownership of the team (like the Green Bay situation). Then the Saints could become a new revenue stream for the entire city rather than just for one rich white guy. I know this idea would never happen (how would they pay for it? how would they get Benson to sell? the NFL would have to agree, etc etc etc), but I think it could be a cool thing.


by Jeff F (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 8:12pm

geoff - I totally disagree with you. From a business standpoint, keeping the Saints in NO would likely result in hemmoraging money in the short to medium term (Build a new stadium for a team that just had 40% of its fan base move out?), with a long term upside that is lower than what the Saints enjoyed in the past few years; iffy for an NFL team, at best.

Kuato - I think that New Orleans has more pressing matters as far as what to do with the money they have. Yes, there will be a lot of federal assistance, but I would be willing to bet that the city would not be able to realistically afford doing that.

I can't see the Saints staying in NO in the long term at this rate, although it would be nice if they could.

by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 8:20pm

The Saints were on the way out the door before the hurricane. Now their stadium is destroyed and a large chunk of the fan base is gone. It makes no sense for the city/state to build a new stadium. Maybe they should spend their money on new levees. I don't buy for a second that the city will make any money off of having an NFL team. And it doesn't make sense for Benson to spend money to build a stadium in a city that may no longer be able to support pro football.

Moving the Saints out of New Orleans is the only move that makes sense.

by Ian (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 10:48pm

Well, I'll admit I'm one of those people who question the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans at all, but if you are going to do it, you have to deal with the reality that it won't be as big, as rich, or as populous anytime soon as it was before the hurricane.

It only makes sense that the NFL look to move the franchise. It also only makes sense that they go to Los Angeles and that the "Saints" stay in Louisana on the short list for expansion, the way the "Browns" did when the Ravens were born.

On the other hand, Tom Benson doesn't seem like the first guy the NFL might want to be the face of Los Angeles football.

by Adam T (not verified) :: Fri, 11/04/2005 - 11:10pm

#7 has the right idea. Let the Saints leave now, let the city rebuild without having to sink millions into a perpetually below-mediocre team with a greedy owner, then resurrect the Saints a couple years from now... maybe even from an existing team like the Jaguars, who seem to already have one foot out the door of Jacksonville.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Sat, 11/05/2005 - 12:45am

It makes no sense to keep the Saints in New Orleans in the near term. There's no place to play and who knows what the economic situation of the city is going to be.

What they should do, and I haven't seen anyone suggest it, is move the team temporarily. Let them play in San Antonio or LA or wherever for 2 years, with a plan to move back to NO. Once the city is back on its feet they can decide if it makes sense to move the team back.

by Whatever0 (not verified) :: Sat, 11/05/2005 - 2:13am

9: The problem is, once the NFL gets a team in LA, they're not going to want them going back. Once Benson gets to San Antonio, he isn't going to want to go back.

by joel in providence (not verified) :: Sat, 11/05/2005 - 5:26am

i don't see the saints returning to new orleans permanently, unfortunately. new orleans was never like any other city... it exists where it does for strange geological reasons (the intersection of mississippi river barge traffic and ocean vessel traffic) and produced a grotesquely stratified society with a relatively small middle class (by american standards). so it's not a question of just telling new orleans residents "support your team, goddammit!" because how many of 9th ward residents (the ones wolf blitzer called "so poor and so black") can afford NFL ticket prices?

by Justus (not verified) :: Sat, 11/05/2005 - 2:59pm

So New Orleans might finally realize that blowing hundreds of millions of public dollars on a private company with no obligation to stay might not always work out in the end?

If you want "The Saints" to be the "New Orleans Saints" then have the city buy the team. If the NFL won't allow the sale then revoke their anti-trust privileges.

by Israel (not verified) :: Sat, 11/05/2005 - 6:12pm

Build a new stadium for a team that just had 40% of its fan base move out?

How much of the fan base - ticket buyers and otherwise - is in the 40% leaving, rather than in the 60% staying?