Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

30 Dec 2005

Saints to Return to Louisiana in 2006

Len Pasquarelli is reporting that the NFL and Saints owner Tom Benson have reached a deal to have the Saints return to Louisiana full-time next year, playing in Baton Rouge until the Superdome is fully repaired sometime around early November. This is ludicrous. I'm sorry for sounding like a jerk, but then again I'm not sure why this country has decided that anyone who is honest about the situation in New Orleans is a jerk. I hate to even hint at politics on this site, but we've all decided that we're not going to have a realistic conversation about what's going on down there. The national media says that putting the Saints back in New Orleans is the right thing to do. Are any of these people planning on moving to New Orleans to support the team? Why is it that the only nationwide discussion of the reconstruction of New Orleans comes in stories about a professional football team? According to the Houston Chronicle, the current population of New Orleans is 65,000. Slate says the population is 100,000. The pre-Katrina population was 450,000, which itself was one-third lower than the population 40 years ago. Does this sound like a city that can support an NFL franchise? Does this sound like a city that should be devoting one iota of its resources to an NFL franchise? As for Baton Rouge, ticket sales there were two-thirds of what they were in San Antonio. I feel bad for the people of Louisiana who love football, but last time I checked LSU was pretty good and drawing more people than the Saints.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 30 Dec 2005

27 comments, Last at 02 Jan 2006, 9:10pm by Jerry


by Catholic Samurai (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 11:48am

The only reason this is even an argument is because our society has a instictive desire to look "compasionate" instead of being "compasionate".

If the people really cared about the Saints, the NFL and the people of N.O., they would move the team to somewhere else permenently. N.O. has more to worry about then a professional football team that no one wants to see in the first place. Our problem is that if the NFL lets the Saints move somewhere else, it would be seen as a slight against N.O./devestated areas/the "poor"/minorities/etc. If they stay, then they just suck up tax dollars and donations that could be put to use elsewhere, but since it isn't there money, why do they care that it is being wasted just to make people feel good.

Stuff like this is why I vote Libertarian out of principle and Republican out of necessity.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 12:08pm

I agree that there it makes absolutely no sense to keep the Saints in NO from a purely logical standpoint. When you need to rebuild a city, you shouldn't be putting resources into the footbally stadium. You should be putting the resources into hospitals, schools, houses, etc.

I do want to point out that the low population does not suggest the city cannot support a team, however. The population of Green Bay according to the 2000 census is 102,313. And we know how hard it is to get Packers tickets.

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 12:25pm

Except that, in the case of the Packers, the population of Green Bay is not relevant. The population of Wisconsin is.

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 12:28pm


Not to start talking politics, but, in today's political climate, aren't Libertarian views and modern Republican views mutually exclusive? Bush's cronies aren't exactly the biggest fans of the ACLU, after all...

Regarding the Saints: maybe they're afraid that if the Saints move, it would amount, politically, to "giving up" on the rebuilding of NO--i.e. "Well, the city will never recapture it's old glory, so we're getting rid of its only major sports franchise". Economics are one thing, pride is another, and frequently just as powerful.

by Catholic Samurai (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 12:51pm

RE #4:

I regard the ACLU like I do a teenage rebel kid: Cute from a distance, annoying to deal with, correct once in a while, and have the ability to do what they do becuase others (with weapons, mostly) protect their well-beings. Then again, I'm somebody who thought Joe McCarthy was a hero and Thomas Paine was a semi-overrated grandstander, so take my opinions for what they are worth.

Back to the subject, thought: N.O. does have the Hornets, who have only been there 2 years. I just don't see the reason why they need to support two sports teams when their main concern should fixing the infrastructure of N.O.

RE #2: You are correct about population != fan support. Look at L.A. and all the support they threw behind the Rams and Raiders.

by turbohappy (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 12:53pm

Well, Libertarians and Republicans do agree on several things, as do Libertarians and Democrats. Theoretically anyway, Republicans want financial freedom and Democrats want personal freedom. Libertarians just want both!

Now whether the main parties actually meet these objectives or instead work together to reduce our freedoms is questionable. Check out World's Smallest Political Quiz and the LP's positions on all the issues for more information.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 1:00pm

The Hornets aren't necessarily a permanent fixture, though. I don't think there would be much of an outcry if Shinn didn't move the team back to New Orleans. Of course, Shinn did a good job alienating the fan base in basketball-hungry Charlotte, so it might be in character for him even if it were a bad idea to leave ...

I think this is a great example of the problem with most owners in today's sports - they can't afford to own the team and all that comes with it. If Benson could afford to build a new stadium, the question about the Saints would be "Will there be enough fans to buy tickets?" Instead, the question is "How much of the money that New Orleans badly needs for real things should be diverted for a millionaire's playground?"

It's one thing to force a city to build a stadium when it is theoretically possible (but not practical) to pay for it, like here in Indy. Making the city, state, or combination thereof pay for a new Saints stadium under the circumstances is just dumb.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 1:17pm

While New Orleans may not need the Saints, there actually is a benefit to having a convention-worthy stadium in the city.

If the Superdome can be adequately repaired, for not too much money, and the NFL puts up a chunk of the dough, that seems like a worthy effort to me.

by admin :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 1:28pm

The fans of L.A. supported the Rams and Raiders fine. Those teams left because the cities of Anaheim and Los Angeles would not kowtow to their demands for colossal tax increases to finance stadiums.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 1:51pm

I'll second Aaron at #9. My first discussion here at FO was whether LA deserved another team. I was dubious, so I researched attendance figures. Both teams were very well supported as far as ticket sales go. They were both a victim of politics.

If I decided I had to move a team to LA (and nothing has ever convinced me that it's in the best interest of the league to do so), I'd send the Chargers back north from where they once sprang forth. For an area as heavily populated as it is, support for the Chargers pales next to what the Rams and Raiders each received.

by Catholic Samurai (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 2:21pm

Aaron, I probably should have said that population != team support, since L.A. did have a big fan base, it was just that the city wouldn't give in to their demands. However, teams like GB basically own the city because they have allowed the fans to take a part in financing the stadium. I had a friend in high school that purchased that GB stock.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 2:24pm

Re #3: So by the same token then, it's the population of La. that's important for supporting the Saints, not just NO. My point still stands that it is a poor arugment to use the population of NO as a reason for not returning the Saints there.

by Mikey (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 2:45pm

The New Orleans Times-Picayune last week estimated the population of the city at closer to 150,000, with projections being that it will swell to 200,000 after the holidays as families with kids return to re-enroll in schools that are re-opening for the spring semester.

I don't know what Slate's source is for saying that the population is a third lower than it was forty years ago. It may be that they're only looking at the population of Orleans parish, which would ignore the heavy suburban migration of the last four decades. U.S. Census data indicates that the pre-Katrina population of metro New Orleans had grown +35% since 1960 (hopefully, I've linked to the page). Many metro areas have seen their city population shrink in the last half-century while the metro population has grown.

A realistic conversation about the future of New Orleans has to acknowledge that tourism is a primary engine of the local economy, and sports-related tourism is a big component of overall tourism. New Orleans has to be able to count on having the Sugar Bowl and Bayou Classic annually, as well as being part of the regular rotation for the Super Bowl and Final Four. That clearly can't happen without a renovated Superdome. The cost/benefit analysis of using public money for a sports venue in New Orleans is not remotely the same as a similar analysis for Pittsburgh or Minneapolis.

Ticket sales were two-thirds in Baton Rouge what they were in San Antonio. OK. Let's start with the fact that Baton Rouge is less than half the size of San Antonio. The first two post-Katrina Saints "home" games were in San Antonio, a considerable ticket-selling advantage. The games in San Antonio were effectively marketed as an audition for the city to prove its worthiness of an NFL team, a tactic that would make no sense for Baton Rouge. Further, much of the available sports dollar in Baton Rouge had already been spent on college football packages, not a factor in San Antonio.

I applaud Tagliabue's effort to keep the Saints in New Orleans. I'm naive enough to believe that it can work, especially if the league awards multiple Super Bowls to New Orleans in the intermediate future. If it works, it will be Tagliabue's proudest moment as Commissioner. If it doesn't, it will have been a noble failure and the franchise and league can move on with honor. It's worth the effort to try.

I will agree with Aaron on one point. "Why is it that the only nationwide discussion of the reconstruction of New Orleans comes in stories about a professional football team?" Good question. It would probably help if we had a President that would even acknowledge that an important American city is crying out for help, but yeah, we probably shouldn't talk politics here.

by pcs (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 3:08pm

Just as big a consideration as population is affluence. Wisconsin and Louisiana have populations in the same ballpark, but the poverty rate in Louisiana (20%) was more than twice that in Wisconsin before Katrina. Median income in Wisconsin was above the national level, while in Louisiana it was far below the U.S. level -- again, even before Katrina.

Even before the storm, the kind of stadium arrangement Benson wanted was impossible in New Orleans. The area already had a relatively shallow pool of affluent people to pay for seat licenses and that kind of crap, and many of those who could are likely gone forever. (Why can Dan Snyder charge insane prices at his stadium? Because there's 100,000 people on the season ticket waiting list.) The city didn't have the corporate presence you need to sell luxury boxes, and it certainly doesn't now and won't in the future. Four years ago, the city tried to sell naming rights to the Superdome and no one was buying. I don't see how a depopulated, destroyed, economically crippled area can support an NFL franchise.

If the league wants to do some good, it should commit to repairing the Superdome independent of whether the Saints return. New Orleans desperately needs the revenue -- and jobs -- the hospitality industry has traditionally provided, and making the Dome available for use is critical to that aim.

by Mikey (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 3:22pm

"I don’t see how a depopulated, destroyed, economically crippled area can support an NFL franchise."

You should have grown up in Pittsburgh in the 80s with me!!

Don't flame me, Steeler fans, I'm one of you.

Talking about potential Saints ticket sales, I think we have to separate individual season ticket sales from suite sales. You're entirely right that the corporate base in NO was weak pre-Katrina and will certainly be no better in the forseeable future. The league will have to make some kind of concession to allow for poor suite sales in the Superdome (remember, suite revenue is not subject to sharing of gate receipts, so this is would be a major issue for the Saints).

On individual season ticket sales, however, I don't agree. The permanent population loss is going to skew heavily toward the underclass. The more affluent families that might be inclined to buy season tickets are mostly in neighborhoods and suburbs that are already inhabitable, with the terrible exception of the Lakeview area. It's highly likely, in my opinion, that we will ultimately see a smaller New Orleans, but with sharply higher mean and median incomes and a much lower poverty rate.

by Catholic Samurai (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 4:30pm

RE #13:

N.O.'s problems are a lot more deep and serious than "We are this fine town that got hit by a natural disaster and we need help but 'Insert simpleton political statement by Kanye West here'". FEMA was a wreck, the federal goverment did what the could have done legally before and during, (and Bush's mom's comments, however true they were, weren't tactful), and the local and state governments were the kings of screw-up mountain.

by GaryS (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 4:37pm

I agree with pcs. If the NFL wants to do right by the city, offer to repair the Superdome so NO can use it to generate income.

NO barely supported the Saints with taxpayer funds before Katrina. To have the city/state spend a dime on either the Superdome or the Saints is insane. And remember, it is the US taxpayer that is funding 80% of the reconstruction costs for LA.

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 6:24pm


Why on gods green earth would a libertarian vote Republican?

If you are a libertarian vote that way, but Democrats have been spending less than Republicans since the late 50s/early 60s (and if you are a social libertarian Republicans are even worse than if you were a fiscal one). Granted the Democrats themselves are horrible, but at least the taxes the collect go to lower income poeple and goverment employees instead of defense contractors and the hyperwealthy.

Regarding NO. I was a firm believer from day 1 that we should have just relocated the people and spent basically no money on rebulding a city there. The whole south of LA is eroding anyway and the Mississippi really wants to change course away from NO, so now we can let it.

This would have been cheaper, safer in the long term, and would probably improve the displaced people's standard of living (rather than struggling in a moribund economy). On top of that as a society we relly really need to start making people/municipalities pay for poor city planning decision making.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 8:17pm

There are a couple of real advantages to the Saints' return:

-It will be a sign to people who are wavering about returning that another piece of the city's life is in place.

-If Benson and/or the league is willing to commit to the Saints being there long-term, the team could earn its fans' hearts in a much more Green Bay-esque way than they ever have.

by Mikey (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 10:26pm

Samurai, by all means please enlighten me on the deep and serious problems facing New Orleans. I was there all last week. Let's compare notes.

Is it your opinion that the Bush administration has made the recovery of the gulf coast a high priority? If so, how has that help manifested? I mean other than keeping the Miss River Gulf Outlet open against the wishes of local leaders even after it flooded St Bernard parish.

To say that Barbara Bush's comments were simply "not tactful" is one of the most asinine things I've read in the four months since Katrina. But maybe you've spoken to some evacuees who agree that they were better off sleeping in the Astrodome than they were in their own homes. That's not the opinion of evacuees I've talked to. Again, let's compare notes.

by Mikey (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 10:29pm

Gary, by what standard would you say that New Orleans barely supported the Saints before Katrina? The Saints sold the second most tickets per capita and had the second highest local TV ratings in the league despite a long history of mostly losing teams.

by Catholic Samurai (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 10:29pm

Mikey, this site is not the place for such an long and OT discussion, but if you would like, you can e-mail me. Just click on my name and sort it out.

by Darrel (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 10:33pm


This is ludicrous. I’m sorry for sounding like a jerk, but then again I’m not sure why this country has decided that anyone who is honest about the situation in New Orleans is a jerk.

You're not a jerk. People who are honest about the situation in New Orleans are not jerks. Tom Benson is not honest about the situation in New Orleans, and never has been.

by Mikey (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 10:45pm

Samurai, thanks for the offer but I'll pass and try to keep my comments to issues directly relating to the Saints.

Clearly we have very different views of what the federal role in NO should have been and should be now, and I doubt that either of us will change the other's mind.

by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Sun, 01/01/2006 - 3:08pm

I just went to New Orleans last Saturday to drop off a bunch of toys to the children's hospital there...it's still messed up. Some places have recovered, or weren't hit that bad...but downtown New Orleans? It's...pretty horrible. The streets are still messed up, buildings looking bombed out...it's bad.

by Felton (not verified) :: Mon, 01/02/2006 - 12:01pm

Politicians are in a lose-lose bind over pro sports. It's economic suicide to kowtow to the team and political suicide to let them go. The Saints did absolutely no promotional work for the games in BR and turned away some sales by making ticket purchasing difficult. My opinion at this point is that Tom Benson has been purposely mismanaging the team to get out of New Orleans. He made no effort for years to replace Finks as GM (Kuharich was laughable as GM). He foolishly hired Ditka, who has no business coaching an NFL team (his resume in Chicago should read that he dismantled a great team). Finally, he hired Randy Mueller and then let him go under questionable circumstances. Haslett has blamed everyone but himself for the team's failures (Ricky Williams, Willie Roaf, Kyle Turley, Sam Clancy, Hub Alexander, now Aaron Brooks and Darren Howard) and should have been fired years ago. Mickey Loomis should not be anywhere near any NFL football operations. I once thought that the current NFL economic structure left the Saints behind. In 1971, the Raiders played the Saints in Tulane Stadium. The Saints were terrible - in the midst of a 4-8-2 season. 84,000 people jammed into the stadium to see the Raiders. No one was selling tickets outside. 29 years later, the Raiders came to the Superdome for a terrific matchup with the 6-2 (I think) Saints. The Saints had to lean on a local company to buy the last few tickets to get a "sellout". I really thought at the time that NO really could not afford to keep up in the NFL financially. I now believe that Benson's incompetence, largely by design, has totally alienated people in New Orleans who would support a well-run franchise. Benson now waits four months before saying that he supports the city's rebuilding after lying about the condition of the practice facility. He will probably keep Haslett and Loomis for next year so the team can really tank and then he will move on. Somewhere on Tom Benson's head is a "666". I don't mind if the Saints move, as long as it is a purely business decision and not one tainted by the Saints trying to make New Orleans look worthless.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Mon, 01/02/2006 - 9:10pm

Hey LnGrrrR,

How was/is Biloxi?