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Halo 11-17-2005 01:26 PM

An Apology Would Sell Tickets and More

We see it all the time. A public figure or politician makes a mistake, they publicly apologize, and the mistake goes away. It’s common practice for Hollywood actors and senators alike. It’s probably hard to do, and how well it’s received depends on the nature of the mistake, the person’s sincerity, and how badly a person or a thing has been hurt by the mistake. The people of the Gulf Coast Region have been hurt not only by Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita, but also by the actions, or inactions, of the New Orleans Saints organization. Whether it’s true or not, or whether the organization feels like it has done something wrong or not, is not the issue here. For as much as fans shouldn’t think they are putting money in the pockets of Tom Benson when they buy tickets, so should Tom Benson apologize for the way the Saints have carried themselves in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, whether he feels he did something wrong or not.

How well an apology works depends on how bad the infractions are. When Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart made his famous “I have sinned� sermon as an apology for his lowly activities on Airline Highway, he was able to save his ministry and save the seminary he built in Baton Rouge. Hugh Grant apologized for getting caught with a prostitute in his car. He lost his girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley for a short while, but in the end she came back to him. On the other hand, neither Timothy McVeigh nor Adolph Hitler apologized (in any real sense) for their crimes, but then again who would accept it.

In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans found itself in the National spotlight again but not as a leader in murder rates, or for having a poor school system. This time it was real because whole parts of the city were physically destroyed after Hurricane Katrina, and now, months later, many people still wait to get back home and sift through the garbage that their lives and belongings have been reduced to. All the while, their mascot and home team moved to San Antonio and it appeared in print and by actions, or inactions, that the organization was moving for good.

Administrator Arnold Fielkow was fired for supporting the idea of bringing the organization back to Louisiana. Then Connie Kowal, marketing director, resigned for apparently the same reasons. Recently, regional sales manager Mike Fader left over differences with the organization after the Saints’ recent half-hearted sales effort in Baton Rouge failed. All the while, Mayor Hardenberger of San Antonio has been yelling at the top of his lungs that he and Mr. Benson will meet at years end to talk about the PERMANENT move of the Saints to San Antonio.

Tom Benson issued a public statement in the Times-Picayune and Advocate newspapers proclaiming his roots and love for his home city, but said nothing to reassure fans of where the team is heading. It came across as an ad for a car dealership: no money down, no payments until 2029 – go to the game this Sunday and we’ll see. After a poor showing from his team, which itself hyped the game as an “away game� for them, he swatted at a news camera shooting stock footage of him, and confronted a heckling fan.

Regardless of the messages seen, heard or not heard, the facts are that this organization has done nothing to lessen the burden and tensions of the loyal fans that have supported this football club for nearly 40 years. 5 straight years of Superdome sellouts without one playoff appearance speaks volumes to me. It’s plain to see the aftermath of Katrina had a drunken effect on Mr. Benson and the Saints organization as their judgment was obviously blurred. The NFL commissioner stepped in and calmed the waters, but for how long, we still have no clue.

Former Pittsburgh QB and Louisiana native Terry Bradshaw put together a group interested in buying the Saints to keep them in Louisiana. Mr. Benson stated earlier this week the team was not for sale, and he wanted to leave the team to his grandchildren. If the NFL and Mr. Benson are serious about keeping the team in Louisiana, there is one thing I would advise him to do: apologize for the abysmal public relations campaigns and responses shown by the Saints organization toward the citizens of the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Louisianans are some of the kindest and most forgiving people you’ll ever meet. They would embrace Tom Benson’s apologies for not quieting the mayor of San Antonio, not making full efforts to sell tickets in Baton Rouge, not easing the tensions of a potential move in the wake of the largest natural disaster in U.S. history, and for unprofessional behavior unbecoming an NFL owner after the Miami game in Baton Rouge as recorded on videotape. The President apologized for the mishaps of FEMA, the Governor apologized for the debacle at the Superdome where food and facilities were not provided. And now it’s time for Tom Benson and his organization to punt the ball.

If Tom Benson is serious about being a part of the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region, an apology to Saints fans for the organizations’ messaging in the aftermath of Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita would not only be embraced, but would also sell tickets now and next season. All he has to say is “I love you, I am one of you, and I am here… to stay�. If Mr. Benson reads this and disagrees because he thinks he’s done nothing wrong, I’ll put it in simple economic terms that he can understand:

Apology = Good Press = $$$$.

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