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Good article with some new thoughts ...

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; John Maginnis: Benson needs a long sea cruise Gov. Kathleen Blanco did not seem pleased to learn that Tom Benson's company bought a yacht, valued at $12 million to $20 million, in the same year that his New Orleans Saints ...

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Old 02-06-2005, 04:24 PM   #1
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Good article with some new thoughts ...

John Maginnis: Benson needs a long sea cruise

Gov. Kathleen Blanco did not seem pleased to learn that Tom Benson's company bought a yacht, valued at $12 million to $20 million, in the same year that his New Orleans Saints received a $12.5 million subsidy from the state. For her, the only worse news about the boat would have been that her husband Coach was cruising around on it.

He wasn't. But the negative public reaction to the owner taking a government check with one hand while buying an expensive sea toy with the other will not make the governor's task of securing a long-term contract with the team any easier.

It is not known where the money came from for Benson Football to purchase the 122-foot luxury vessel, ranked the 190th largest in America by a yatching magazine. It's likely most of the funds were from the sale that year of a 109-foot yacht that Benson's company listed for almost $8 million.

A team spokesman called the boat ownership issue irrelevant to the question of what the Saints need in order to succeed in a small market that is not as economically robust as others, such as Philadelphia and Boston, whose teams are playing in the Super Bowl. That is, if New Orleans had more big corporate yacht owners, Benson would not need state aid to compete in the league of the super rich.

But that point is lost on the average fan, already disappointed in the performance of the Saints, and more so on the average non-fan, opposed to public money being used to underwrite a rich man's sporting venture.

Some might say that the boat issue increases Blanco's leverage with Benson by giving more weight to her request that he open his company's books if he doesn't accept her proposal on the table. But, seen another way, Blanco's biggest challenge might not be reaching an agreement with Benson but rather selling it to the Legislature and the people, and the latest boating news will make her eventual sales job harder.

The governor starts with a good bargaining position with the owner, who has more good reasons than not to keep the Saints in New Orleans. Even if he wanted to, Benson is in no position to move the team to Los Angeles, because the NFL would require any new owner there to bear most of the cost of a new stadium. If he sells the team, he would have to share his half-billion-dollar profit with the IRS, and he would not be able to pass the franchise on to his granddaughter, as he seems to want to do.

If he stays put, and no other team moves west, the NFL might place an expansion team in Los Angeles, with an estimated $1 billion entry fee from the new owner to be shared by the 32 franchises - a $31 million windfall to Benson.

Despite the tough negotiating stance Blanco has taken toward Benson (as much for public consumption as for his), ultimately, when and if the deal is done, she will need to make lawmakers and voters feel good, or not so bad, about the state paying for most or all of the Superdome renovation while maintaining some level of payments to the franchise. That does not square well with this new public image, fair or not, of Captain Tom jauntily setting sail aboard his pleasure craft, with taxpayers pulling the oars.

Even before this, Benson was aware of his image problem, which is why the Saints have had little public comment about negotiations with the state, and he has made none. There was a reason former Gov. Mike Foster described "old man Benson" as "grumpy," though Foster was hardly one to speak. Past off-the-cuff comments from the owner about the Saints' relationship with the state did more to alienate public opinion than win it over.

So, until an agreement is reached, the less said by or about Benson the better for both sides. And when the day comes that the governor presents the terms of a deal to legislators, and asks them to fund it, the best place for Tom Benson to be is aboard his luxury yacht, far out to sea.
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