Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Oct 2005

Fielkow: Return Saints to New Orleans

While the Saints seem to be getting their act together on the field, they're still a mess in the front office. The controversy should heat up now that the Saints fired Executive Vice President of Administration Arnold Fielkow, who was the leading voice in favor of keeping the Saints in Louisiana. Is a permanent move to San Antonio inevitable? I was supposed to write about this for TNR and I just haven't had time, so for now, I'll just let the readers discuss and share this comment from Will Carroll (cut from B+B so we wouldn't mix injury talk and Saints talk): "If New Orleans finds itself in a Cleveland situation – losing its team but promised an expansion franchise – they should ask Browns fans how that trade worked out."

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 19 Oct 2005

27 comments, Last at 21 Oct 2005, 11:30am by Dave


by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 11:22am

2005 Standings DVOA
Baltimore 2-3 -15.6%
Cleveland 2-3 -2.4%

I dunno, they look pretty similar to me.

by Adam H (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 11:24am

Mark my words, someone else will own this franchise 12 months from now. That, most likely after some sort of settlement to Mr. Fielkow.

by Adam H (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 11:29am

Good point Pat. And who would you rather root for, Trent Dilfer and the team who stuck it KW2, or the Thug Life All Stars featuring Neon Deion as the spiritual advisor?

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 12:02pm

I'm sure that Browns fans would have liked to win a Super Bowl.

I could be wrong, though.

As for the Saints situation, the mayor of San Antonio is scum. As one Saints fan said, "Taking our team right now would be like stealing a dead man's wallet."

I couldn't agree more. Seriously, these last couple of months have had me on an emotional roller coaster. Things like this get me more upset than they should, and just hearing from random acquaintances gets me happier than normal.

by TMK (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 12:20pm

As long as the trade doesn't include Butch Davis, Carmen Policy or Dwight Clark, they should be OK.......

Seriously, though, I think the Cleveland option is the only option that the league has. Benson has an agreement with the state of Louisiana that the state will contribute a certain amount of monies to meet the team's revenue target.

Once the state doesn't do that -- and there is no way the state can, would or should do that -- Benson can move the team. The league really has only two options once that happens:

1) Replace the state's subsidy with a league subsidy. This has the benefit of preserving the league's public image, keeping the franchise in place (a franchise that enjoyed great support in possibly the poorest market in the country), and showing that the NFL has an appreciation for the role its franchises play in a community. Working against this idea is that the league's other franchises would not be willing to kick in large amounts of money to subsidize a New Orleans franchise when self-supporting markets (especially Los Angeles) are open. If Al Davis threatens a legal stink, San Antonio and possibly even Las Vegas step into the picture, most likely San Antonio. Since revenue sharing is the foundation of the league, simple business math (the payoff for a NO subsidy isn't going to show up on the ledgers as directly as the outlay) indicates relocation.

2) The Cleveland option (would that the league had the cojones to impose this on the Irsays, but that was a different legal atmosphere). The deal the league crafted for Cleveland to permit the move to Baltimore has succeeded in every aspect except, perhaps, on the field. The Modell franchise was heavily leveraged, with no revenue increases coming, playing in a decrepit facility that was actually THEIR responsibility to maintain. The Lerner franchise is financially secure, with no repossession or bankruptcy imminent, playing in a clean, modern facility that generates the kind of revenue that other teams enjoy. The Lerner franchise actually reached the playoffs once before internal infighting and egos tore it apart. The problems with the Lerner franchise have been personal, not a result of the deal structured by the league.

Now the new Cleveland stadium was built mostly from Ohio sources; that isn't going to be the case with rebuilding or replacing the Superdome. The league has a fund that is used for stadium projects; it has never built one completely out of that fund before, but there are unusual circumstances here.

The main fiscal reason for the league to build a new stadium in New Orleans is the Super Bowl. More Bowls have been played in New Orleans than any city save Miami; it could be argued that New Orleans' most successful business venture of the late 20th century was to align itself so closely with the NFL and its signature event. Certainly nothing outside of Mardi Gras itself put the city so prominently in the public eye. As so much of the commerical infrastructure was already present in New Orleans, and indicates that it wishes to return, the NFL, a big business at heart, is aware of the commercial synergy that revolves around having the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

The NFL also has an appreciation for its status as a national avatar. We've seen it twice in recent memory: at Super Bowl XXV in Tampa, at the beginning of the First Gulf War, and at Super Bowl XXXVI, ironically in New Orleans, 4 months after 9/11. The NFL saw what happened with Whitney Houston's rendition of the anthem (all irony aside, the monetary and emotional effect was considerable), and those lessons were applied for the latter game. The choice of iconic rockers U2 for halftime, the changing of the game logo to replace the city-specific theme with a national one, and the approval of the Patriots' team entrance instead of the individualized introductions speak of one of the finest public relations organizations known. A Super Bowl held in a new New Orleans stadium, the home of a new Saints franchise, would cement the NFL's position as America's game for decades to come.

Drawbacks to the Cleveland option:

Many Browns fans still harbor a bitter resentment against the team's departure in the first place. Many Ravens fans still fell the same way about the Colts. Removing the Saints, even temporarily, from Louisiana would cause similar feelings perhaps. But whereas the Brown and Colt relocations centered around acrimony and greed, the Saint catastrophe has a real, palpable cause. This is not to say that Tom Benson has been magnaminous in his dealings with the state; much of the current uneasiness is due to a prevailing opinion in Louisiana that he had one foot out the door already when the subsidy deal was approved. But, until Katrina, Benson was getting his money, and whatever personal irritation he might have felt about being in New Orleans was well-concealed.

The hurricane changed all that. I lived in Baton Rouge for four years (the era when every bumper in the state seemed to have a "No Mora Excuses" sticker, in honor of the coach who actually got the team to the playoffs for the first time), and I know firsthand the depth of the passion felt for the team. Now we're getting into the state's psyche. Louisiana doesn't expect much from promises anymore; millions of dollars flow through New Orleans, and precious little has ever stopped there for long. In some ways, the eternally failing Saints embodied that ephemeral Louisiana quality -- not quite solid enough, like the land in the bayous. Since they didn't demand anything but affection, the fans gave it to what they perceived as their own. Benson, the used car salesman from Texas, never quite got that. When the bargain became, "give us money if you want us to succeed," Louisianians saw a solid bargain, and demanded return. They didn't get it, only maddening mediocrity. That's when attendance began to dwindle.

That's where New Orleans differs from Cleveland, and resembles Baltimore of the last Irsay years. The reservoir of goodwill and affection is being poisoned. The bargain needs to be restruck, and this time the Al Davis trial isn't hanging over the league's head. Let Benson go, and then give the Saints -- the real Saints -- back to Louisiana, where they belong.

by Shalimar (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 12:33pm

Saints don't need another team. They need to find a group to buy Benson out and keep the team in town. If the NFL wants to help for PR purposes, they should help get rid of Benson.

by Gatts (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 12:40pm

I understand Benson's desire to move the team, especially after this. And I do think that most Saints fans - at least, the ones I've talked to - would accept the Cleveland option (some would be in favor of it out of hatred for Benson).

However, the actions of Benson and the San Antonio Mayor disgust me. (Firing Fielkow, misleading the public about the sales of BR Tickets and SA tickets). Grr. I really can't stand Benson and the team will never achieve anything while he's owner, anyway.

by James, London (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 12:52pm

One of the biggest issues with the Cleveland option is the effect on the NFL schedule. I may be alone in this, but I think that 32 teams in 8 Divisions & 2 Conferences is an ideal setup. 33 teams is just awkward, and the next 'tidy' number is 40 teams, which just can't happen.

SO IMO, the best option is to buy Benson out and keep the Saints in New Orleans.
It should be non-negotiable that NO retains its team, and ideally without an expansion franchise. However, I realise that ultimately, the money will talk.

by TMK (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 1:15pm

I promise this one will be shorter (don't want to be known as Carl, Jr. -- and In and Out is a better burger anyway).

The league has already "promised" a team to LA -- and I agree with London's point about numbers, which means that a franchise will be moved to LA. It also means that the next franchise relocation is most likely to be to whatever team is moved, especially if it turns out to be New Orleans.

This means that New Orleans (and its league-subsidized stadium) becomes the next trinket dangled in front of any owner having trouble with his stadium or fan base (Jax?, Minnesota?) until the league feels enough depth in the pool to push out to 36 teams. In the case of New Orleans, that gives the market time to re-establish itself as well.

There is a school of thought that this is what the league tried to pull when it expanded to Charlotte and Jacksonville, leaving St. Louis and Baltimore unfilled. The Rams took St. Louis, and the expectation was that either the Patriots or Cardinals would relocate to Baltimore (shirts were actually printed "Baltimore Cardinals"). That the Browns took the jump was what surprised these "insiders," not a move to Baltimore. The pattern might be playing out again.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 1:50pm

James, London:

36 is a tidy number. 6 divisions of 6 teams each. Bascially, it would undo 2002, and add one team to most of those old divisions from the AFC-NFC merger. Potential expansion markets for a new team could be LA, Portland, Oklahoma City, Las Vegas, Norfolk, Memphis, Columbus, Hartford, Raleigh.

The schedule would be 2 games against 5 division opponents, and 1 game against each team in another division.

Of course, the simpler alternative is to move the Cardinals to LA, since nobody in Phoenix watches them, and keep the Saints where they are.

by Joey (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 2:53pm

36 teams? Not unless you want to rename it CFL-South. They can't find enough decent QBs now.

The dumbest thing the NFL has going right now is the promised team to LA. Promised to who? The "fans" who couldn't care less whether they have a team or not?

Andrew's list above shows how adding teams doesn't always strengthen a league (for more on that, see the entries under "baseball" and "hockey"). About half his list is arguable. But Ohio isn't going to support three teams and Carolina isn't going to support two. And, had I been drinking, I would have spit it out after reading Oklahoma City.

NO should keep the Saints...this version, only with a new owner. It'll say many things (all bad) if the uber-wealthy NFL can't find a way to do the right thing for a city that's just exprienced one of the worst natural disasters in memory...and a city that's hosted multiple Super Bowls, to boot.

by TMK (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 3:05pm

The NFL is a business -- you're going to have to convince these people where subsidizing Benson for a few years improves their profits vs. a situation with Benson in Los Angeles and the next relocation in a recovered Louisiana, where the NFL gets to throw a party with a "return" Super Bowl. They'll go for the money.

And that doesn't address the fact that the Superdome will not be available for at least one more season, if ever.

by Devin McCullen (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 3:13pm

Because I can never pass up a chance at a realignment plan, here's a 36-team league with 3 divisions (new cities should be obvious)

AFC East - Buffalo, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Miami, New England, NY Jets
AFC Central - Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Tennessee
AFC West - Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Oakland, San Antonio, San Diego
NFC East - Atlanta, Dallas, New Orleans, NY Giants, Philadelphia, Washington
NFC Central - Carolina, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota, Tampa Bay
NFC West - Arizona, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis

I wanted to keep Atlanta and New Orleans together for rivalry purposes, and Tampa Bay's got history with the old NFC Central teams - OK, not a good history.

by ABW (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 3:26pm

Expansion is a TERRIBLE idea. If the NFL expands to 36 teams, I will eat my own shoe covered in Sriracha and chalk dust.

The NFL is having a hard enough time finding fans for some of the teams right now. If you can't sell out markets like Phoenix and Jacksonville, why would going into Memphis or Portland be a good idea? Since when can Tennessee support two teams and UT? Have you ever heard of "talent dilution?" There are only so many guys who are truly NFL quality, and teams are having a hard enough time finding quality depth right now.

But hey, if the league was 36 teams, then Jay Fiedler would probably still be starting, Vinny Testaverde wouldn't have gotten a vacation at the beginning of this season, and maybe even AJ Feeley would still have a starting job somewhere. Wouldn't that be great? I know I miss the AJ Feeley Experience every Sunday.

by Björn (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:31pm

This is all about priorities. Right now, New Orleans can't even find enough $$$ to upgrade their levees. They just put them back the way they were. If I am the Saints, I present the city an ultimatum. Build up the levees, or we're moving to Edmonton. (We could support an NFL team... our stadium seats 60 000... seriously. please?)

by Dave (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 4:35pm

I strongly suspect that when everything's played out (which won't be for a few years; I'd bet the Saints will spend all of 2006 @ LSU), the Saints will be with new ownership and in LA, with a minor realignment putting the LA Saints in the NFC West and the Rams in the NFC South (if the Vikings moved to LA, the Rams would move to the NFC North). LA's far more attractive than any other open city, and I don't think post-Katrina New Orleans can support an NFL team.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 5:01pm

I'm not going to get into the post-Katrina NOLA because there are so many variables.

Exactly how is having a guaranteed blackout every week in the second largest media market in the country a good idea for the NFL or its fans in the area? That is what it means to have a team in Los Angeles.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 5:02pm

Oops, I meant in half the weeks of the season.

by Dave (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 6:00pm

Eh. If LA can support two NHL teams, two NBA teams, and two baseball teams, I think they can sell out one NFL team; if nothing else, there are enough expatriates from other parts of the country to put a few thousand fans of the other team in the seats for every game. But if they didn't, maybe it would get the NFL to ditch the stupid blackout rule. No one decides to go to the game in person because they can't see it on TV anymore; tickets are too expensive for that.

by smithles (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 6:13pm

there aren't enough players for the 32 teams that we have currently. Sure there's plenty of willing warm bodies but the actual talent is spread so thin in the NFL these days that adding or losing one or two legitimate playmakers can turn a franchise around completely in a very short time. The only problem with that is there are so few legitimate playmakers available.

by Joey (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 7:27pm

Longtime NBA fans look back fondly to the early 80s before expansion because teams were so much more talented then. (Somebody at ESPN wrote a detailed column on this a couple years ago, showing how differently things would have been had there been 30+ teams then. In summary: the great Laker and Celtic teams would have been shells of what they were.)

But, compared to the NFL, the NBA has a much larger talent pool. Both leagues get most their players from major colleges but there are three times as many Division I basketball programs as football. And, NBA rosters are only 15 players each with lots of talent available from abroad. NFL teams have 55-man rosters and nobody overseas plays the sport. Logically, to keep from being diluted, the NFL should have fewer teams than the NBA, not more.

by Tommy (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 7:35pm

The idea that expansion dilutes talent is largely a matter of perception. It's easy to say that there aren't enough good players to go around ... I just can't agree at all.

Look at Parker on Pittsburgh. Guy gets a chance and has some big games. There are players like that on every team. With the population what it is, the popularity of football at all levels, the continuing boom of college football ... there are plenty of players to go around. Yes, even quarterbacks. You think Schaub, for example, can't run a team?

by Tommy (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 7:38pm

"Longtime NBA fans look back fondly to the early 80s before expansion because teams were so much more talented then."

Everybody looks back fondly at era X and marvels at how great the teams were back then. You can't arbitrarily add N number of teams to a league and conclude that a franchise would have been completely different. It's an inane argument. Who knows what the NBA would have looked like in the 80s with 30 teams? I don't know, you don't know, and some mook from ESPN sure doesn't know.

by Dave (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2005 - 8:38pm

And it doesn't really matter; there weren't 30 NBA teams in the 80s, and there are now. Basketball is more popular in the US now, there's been population growth, and basketball has become a major sport outside the US (almost every team has a few international players these days).

The great Laker and Celtic dynasties of the past would have had trouble staying together today, but that's because of the salary cap and free agency, not because of the depth of the talent pool.

by TMK (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 12:05pm

Sophandros, it's because there are too many variables that the league would probably let Benson move. Like any businessmen, they prefer situations with options they can control, such as when and how a team starts playing in New Orleans again.

Even Ray Nagin is saying he wants to be "Cleveland" rather than deal with Benson in this situation any longer. That's poison.

It's gonna hurt like hell, but you won't be waiting 13 years, with the league working against you, until you get your team back. If what Fielkow and the others are saying is true, your only options are to be "Cleveland" or to be "Baltimore" -- a poorer Baltimore with major infrastructure questions. Let the legue broker the deal -- it's really New Orleans' only choice at this point.

by Joey (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 2:52pm

"I don’t know, you don’t know, and some mook from ESPN sure doesn’t know."
Excellent scientific analysis! You realize this whole site is built on the premise that you can, in fact, determine things like this, right?

There's no way to know exactly, but by looking at how drafts would have went with more teams added and assuming a natural migration of talent around a larger league (secondary players getting the chance to be THE man, sixth men having the chance to start elsewhere, benchwarmers moving into the rotation, etc.) you CAN, in fact, tell what would have happened with a pretty high degree of certainty. The quickest way to show this is to go to a ridiculous extreme: If the NFL had 56 teams in the 80s, does Steve Young ever play backup? Of course not. And every second rounder goes in the first round to a different team than they ended up playing for.

You underestimate the roles of competive nature and prestige. Let's assume every player in the NFL made exactly the same salary and the league added some new teams. Would the backups in the league be interested in the chance to prove themselves on the field, or would they happily play second fiddle on their current teams? Even with no monetary advantage, most would want the chance to play.

by Dave (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 11:30am

There's no question that the immediate impact of adding teams is to dillute existing talent. But it's certainly true in basketball that the talent pool has expanded along with the league. If the NFL suddenly expanded to 56 a few years after the number of NFL-ready players graduating from college had suddenly doubled, it's doubtful that the quality of play would suffer much. Of course, unlike basketball and baseball, football really hasn't caught on outside the US...