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pakowitz 05-02-2003 01:49 AM

Ban on Saints blackouts gets support

The Associated Press

May 1, 2003

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A former New Orleans Saints player and a fiery speech from the House speaker persuaded the House to overwhelmingly support legislation that would ban local television blackouts of Saints games.

“It opens up the opportunity for local people to see the games,� said former Saints player and state Rep. Pat Swilling, D-New Orleans.

The House approved the bill by House Speaker Charlie DeWitt in a 78-18 vote Wednesday, sending it to the Senate after DeWitt, D-Lecompte, said he was tired of “rural folks� helping the Saints and not being able to see the games.

The state made a deal with Saints owner Tom Benson to pay him $186.5 million if he keeps the team in New Orleans for 10 years. The NFL and television networks impose local TV blackouts if games are not sold out 72 hours before kickoff.

“We give $186 million and you know what they want to say? ‘To heck with you. You’ve given us the money and you can’t watch us play,’ � DeWitt said, his voice rising.

The NFL has warned the proposal could cost New Orleans its status as frequent host of the Super Bowl if it passes, but DeWitt said no one from the NFL has opposed the bill during committee discussion or with him personally.

“I said if they’ve got a problem with the bill, call Charlie DeWitt, and I’ll drop the bill, and I haven’t gotten a call,� he said.

Rep. Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, said banning blackouts could mean more people would stay at home to watch the games, meaning the Superdome would lose money and the state would have to fill in the shortfall.

Rep. Mitch Landrieu, D-New Orleans, said the bill was illegal because it violates the interstate commerce act and was sure to provoke a lawsuit.

“There are some things you cannot control no matter how much you would like to,� he said. “The second the bill is passed we’re going to have to defend ourselves against a lawsuit, and we are going to lose.�

Landrieu said the state could lose a $300 million impact if New Orleans loses future Super Bowls.

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