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Gayle Benson Details Succession Plans to Keep Saints, Pelicans in New Orleans

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 30, 2021

Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Gayle Benson, who owns the NFL's New Orleans Saints and NBA's New Orleans Pelicans, announced Wednesday the franchises will be sold following her death with the proceeds being donated to charities around the city.

Benson, 74, told Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune that executives are working to ensure the winning bidder will keep both teams in New Orleans. Her husband, Tom, died in 2018.

"When Tom bought this team, he didn't have a lot of money," she said. "Everything that he had, had to be given to keep the team. He worked really hard to get the Pelicans here. He sacrificed a lot. I want to make sure that we keep the teams here. I want them to stay in New Orleans forever."

Benson has no heirs, so the succession plan calls for team executives to handle the sale. Saints President Dennis Lauscha will serve as executor of her estate and handle the process.

"The league is fine with it," Lauscha told Duncan. "Every year the NFL requires that teams submit what their succession plans are going to be, and we've been filing ours since the league mandated it a handful of years ago."

At issue is the Saints' current lease with New Orleans to use the Caesars Superdome, which runs through 2025. The expiration of a lease is the most common time for rumors of small-market teams moving to a larger market to emerge. The Buffalo Bills, whose lease expires in 2023, have been linked to Austin, Texas, while trying to finalize plans with state and local officials in New York for a new stadium.

Benson said she's doing everything in her power to ensure that doesn't become an issue for the Saints.

"That's going to be one of our stipulations when we sell the team—that it stays here," she told Duncan. "Dennis won't sell it to another person that wants to take it away."

Lauscha added: "We're a small market, but we don't feel like we take a back seat to anybody. We expect to be No. 1 in everything that we do."

The Pelicans' lease to use the Smoothie King Center runs through 2024, and John Hollinger of The Athletic reported in June his sources "consistently mention New Orleans as the most likely team to seek relocation in the coming decade."

"Our intent absolutely is to structure the deals in a way so that both teams can be here for a very long time," Lauscha said. "We want to make sure if a new owner is coming into this market, not only do they see that this market is viable, but they also can see that financially it makes sense."

The Saints president added he "regularly receives calls from interested suitors" for both franchises should they become available.

Benson, a New Orleans native, became the principal owner of the teams after the death of her husband, who had reached a settlement agreement in 2017 with his daughter from a prior marriage and her children to settle a lawsuit related to ownership stakes.

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