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Benson Show's He's Serious About Staying in San Antonio

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Saints' Benson shows he's serious about staying in San Antonio Web Posted: 10/19/2005 12:00 AM CDT Tom Orsborn San Antonio Express-News Staff Writer Arnold Fielkow was much more than an employee to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. He was ...

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Old 10-20-2005, 07:50 AM   #1
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Benson Show's He's Serious About Staying in San Antonio

Saints' Benson shows he's serious about staying in San Antonio
Web Posted: 10/19/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Tom Orsborn
San Antonio Express-News Staff Writer

Arnold Fielkow was much more than an employee to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. He was the chief administrator for Benson's beloved football team. And he was Benson's friend.

Last year, Fielkow served as an usher at Benson's wedding in San Antonio.

"We were close," Fielkow recalled Tuesday.

Then, in the aftermath of a hurricane, came a collision of business interests, personal convictions — and, it can be surmised, Benson's intentions for the future of the Saints. When Benson summoned Fielkow to his makeshift office in the Alamodome on Monday, the future was on his mind.

A future without Arnold Fielkow.

Benson gave him five minutes to resign. When Fielkow balked, Benson fired him.

In ushering Fielkow out the door, Benson sent a clear signal he is, at the very least, deeply interested in keeping his displaced team in San Antonio, for next season and all the NFL seasons after that. In dumping Fielkow, Benson rid himself of the organization's most vocal proponent of keeping the team in Louisiana.

Having taken up the Saints' relocation cause on the legislative end, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said Tuesday he considers Fielkow's exit a clue to Benson's next move.

"I thought it was a very interesting telltale sign," Wentworth said.

Fielkow, who got the news in a tense closed-door meeting with Benson and Saints attorney Stanley Rosenberg, termed Benson's decision "unfair and unwarranted."

But sources close to the Saints' situation here say Benson's decision was justified.

When Hurricane Katrina forced the Saints out of New Orleans in early September, Fielkow opposed Benson's wishes to play all the team's home games in San Antonio. At one point, Fielkow alerted a Louisiana lawmaker to Benson's interest in not returning to New Orleans. Fallout from that disclosure weakened Benson's hand.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped in and negotiated a deal that rebooked four of the Saints' home games for Baton Rouge. San Antonio got only three.

Moreover, sources say, Fielkow showed a reluctance to push plans for ticket and sponsorship sales and marketing. City officials complained Fielkow was dragging his feet in the hope of making sure Baton Rouge would emerge as the better location.

Fielkow denies that was the case, but the complaints made their way to Benson. In his meeting with Benson on Monday, Fielkow was handed a five-page buyout deal. The buyout, which would pay Fielkow the remainder of his salary, included a confidentiality clause designed to keep him from disclosing Benson's plans.

The dismissal, Fielkow said, "was very much unexpected. It is most unfortunate that after six years I would be treated like this."

On Tuesday, Fielkow's chief assistant, marketing director Conrad "Connie" Kowal, resigned, forced out by Benson. Sources say the Saints are likely headed for a major front-office makeover.

All of it points in one direction — and it's not eastbound I-10.

Fielkow was regarded as one of Benson's confidants. He gained the owner's trust and admiration by helping to negotiate a $187 million subsidies package from the state of Louisiana, a deal unprecedented in professional sports.

"Our dealings with Arnie Fielkow were always professional," said attorney Larry Roedel, who represents the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District. "He was always prepared and worked toward resolving issues instead of creating problems. He will be missed in the negotiating process."

Fielkow's five full seasons with the team, which began in 2000, also included an impressive streak of 36 consecutive sellouts at the Superdome. During his tenure, Fielkow, a Wisconsin native, fell in love with the city. After Katrina, he took strong exception to the idea Benson might never bring the team back to New Orleans.

Sources say Benson's post-Katrina stance should not have taken Fielkow by surprise.

Last May, Benson, through Rosenberg, floated the idea of relocation to then mayoral candidate Phil Hardberger. Those overtures were reported by the Express-News. Hardberger turned Benson's reported interest in San Antonio into a campaign pitch and won the election in a runoff. That was more than three months before Katrina struck New Orleans.

Local leaders in support of permanent relocation maintain Benson, with no stadium and no stable fan base, is pondering a simple choice: Relocate or face severe financial difficulties.

As the need to make a decision becomes more pressing, Benson decided dollars and common sense had to take precedent over sentimentality.

Fielkow said he disagrees with Benson's apparent choice.

"Hopefully," he said, "the right thing will be done relative to this team."


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