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Benson Has Made Saints a Hard Sell

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Benson has made Saints a hard sell Monday, November 21, 2005 Peter Finney - Times Picayune For the Saints, a season of two different games continues. On the field Sunday, Jim Haslett's team came off the deck in the fourth ...

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Old 11-21-2005, 09:46 AM   #1
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Benson Has Made Saints a Hard Sell

Benson has made Saints a hard sell

Monday, November 21, 2005
Peter Finney - Times Picayune


For the Saints, a season of two different games continues.

On the field Sunday, Jim Haslett's team came off the deck in the fourth quarter, shaved a 17-point lead to a touchdown and was within a whisker of overtime before bowing to the Patriots to go 2-8 and remain by itself in the cellar of the NFC South.

Off the field, it remained a game of tug-of-war -- Tom Benson vs. Paul Tagliabue -- and it looks like this one may wind up in overtime.

Let's put all the rhetoric aside, forget the usual spin, forget all that has been said and left unsaid.

These are the facts as I see them.

Benson wants the Saints in San Antonio. Permanently.

The owner spent part of last week no doubt telling the owners what he has been telling the commissioner: The Saints do not have a future in a post-Katrina New Orleans.

If you've been paying attention, you know that Commissioner Tagliabue wants the Saints in Louisiana, at least short term, hopefully long term, pending post-Katrina progress in a region struck, as the commissioner put it, by an "unprecedented national disaster."

Tagliabue took concrete action on the state's behalf, virtually forcing Benson to play four home games in LSU's Tiger Stadium.

And Benson?

His concrete action, publicly at least, boiled down to a couple of things: First the firing of front-office executive Arnold Fielkow, someone who shared the commissioner's feelings, followed by trashing the security at Tiger Stadium, along with an "I shall not return" vow, this on a day 61,000 had turned out to watch his team lose to the Miami Dolphins.

So let's play a game of lights, camera, action.

Immediately after Katrina, as his city swam, as the dead were being counted, Benson should have joined the commissioner at a press conference.

Tagliabue would have said what he has been saying. About how much the Saints mean to New Orleans. About how hard the league will work to keep them there and be part of a region's recovery.

And what should Benson have said?

Something like: "First, I want to thank the city of San Antonio for giving our team, and our employees, a temporary home. I have no idea what the future holds. No one does. No owner, no franchise has ever faced such a challenge. Let's take it one step at a time. This season we're looking forward to playing some of our home games in Baton Rouge, close to the loyal fans who have supported us during the 20 years I've owned the franchise. I've always felt we have the greatest fans in professional football. That's why we're planning to play as many games as possible next season in Baton Rouge. I want to thank LSU officials for their cooperation in making this possible. I'd also like to say we're planning to return to our training camp in New Orleans, which is serving as a valuable asset in hurricane relief, as soon as the season ends, so we can prepare for the 2006 season. It's my hope the Saints will always be part of my hometown. It's the hope of the National Football League as well. Which is why I want to thank Commissioner Tagliabue for his leadership in helping to keep the Saints where they belong."

Had Benson joined his commissioner, had he used a script somewhat along these lines, he'd be a hero in his hometown.

Didn't happen.

What has happened is the Saints have an owner who, by his words and actions, has made it next to impossible to win the support of his loyal fan base.

At a "Save The Saints" meeting last week in Baton Rouge, Rita Benson LeBlanc defended her grandfather, who, she said, has become a "punching bag" for fans and media. She should realize this is not the fault of the fans or the media. The fault lies with the owner.

At the same meeting, chief financial officer Dennis Lauscha said fewer than 30,000 tickets have been sold for each of the two remaining games at Tiger Stadium, against Tampa Bay on Dec. 4 and Carolina on Dec. 18. Said Lauscha: "It's important to us as an organization to show what we can do."

He's absolutely right.

The question is: How extensively will the Saints market the games, having jettisoned Fielkow, who was in charge of marketing, having watched others involved in ticket-selling duties leave the organization?

Here's the saddest part of the ongoing, off-the-field game: The owner has made the job of selling tickets to Saints games some kind of third-and-long challenge.


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