Saints on the march?
WASHINGTON ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson said at Tuesday's league meetings that he has received an offer of more than $1 billion for his franchise but insisted he's committed to conducting business as usual for the 2005 season before deciding the future of the team.
Benson's $1 billion-plus assertion is almost unbelievable in the context of the NFL. That price would be the highest paid for a team in the history of the league ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ far more than the record $800 million Daniel Snyder paid to purchase the Washington Redskins in 1999 and nearly double the $625 million Red McCombs stands to receive for his sale of the Minnesota Vikings this week.
Benson says his personal attorney, Stanley Rosenberg, received a "written offer" for the amount.
Adding to the intrigue, Benson has been locked in a contentious battle with state officials over his team's lease of the Louisiana Superdome. On Tuesday here at the owners' annual spring meetings, he sounded like a man who is more than prepared to use a possible move to the Los Angeles market as a bargaining chip.
Though Benson said he wants to stay in New Orleans, he refused to guarantee that he would remain in the city at the end of the upcoming season, when he has a 90-day window to break his lease with the Superdome for an $81 million penalty. Asked if he would consider a move to Los Angeles at that time, Benson said, "You consider everything.
We don't want to leave New Orleans, and the people don't want us to leave New Orleans ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ the majority of them, anyway," Benson said. "Unfortunately, we've got a lot of people who watch television that maybe can't afford to buy tickets. Maybe we can work that out, you know?"
Perhaps no franchise has as clear a path to Los Angeles as the Saints, who are struggling through multiple issues heading into the upcoming season.
Benson is unhappy with the state of the aging Superdome. Season ticket sales are hovering around a tepid 25,000, a circumstance the owner termed as "terrible." And local officials want to renegotiate the lease with the team because the state is struggling to come up with subsidies owed to Benson as part of the current deal. Due to the struggling New Orleans economy, the state may come up as much as $10 million short.
The Saints and state officials were millions apart during stadium negotiations last month, which included Superdome renovations and lease terms. At the time, Benson seemed amenable to renovating the Superdome, with the team paying a portion of those costs. On Tuesday, however, he sounded more interested having a new stadium constructed than renovating the old one.
"I don't think just remodeling the Superdome is going to do anything," Benson said. "You've got to compete today ... Dallas is going to put $750 million in their new stadium. These New York teams are going into new stadiums. The Colts are going into a new stadium. San Francisco is working on a new stadium. Everybody. So you're competing with them and what they're doing ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ that's why we're having a problem."
Benson was consistently evasive on the subject of a possible move to Los Angeles, saying that he wasn't interested in talking about breaking his lease with the Superdome. Should the Saints break their lease, which runs through 2010, they would have to repay $81 million in subsidies that have been given to the team since 2001.
But such a penalty, in the context of a $1 billion sale, would be a small price to pay.
While he said he's not actively pursuing buyers, Benson said Rosenberg has received several offers for the team. He repeated that he wanted to retain ownership, and eventually turn it over to his granddaughter, Rita Benson-LeBlanc, who is the team's chief operating officer.
Yet when he was asked if he were guaranteeing that he wouldn't sell the team, Benson replied, "I didn't say that.
"I'm not going to do anything until February after we win the Super Bowl," Benson said. "[Fans] can do whatever they want with that, and you can do whatever, but I'm not going to do anything until the season is over. I don't care if they offer me six billion dollars."
Other news to emerge from Tuesday's meetings:
The NFL is planning additional exploration into the purchase of Manchester United by Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer. The scrutiny is related to the soccer team's relationship with Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which has entered into an agreement with Manchester United to build a casino near the team's stadium.
Glazer is expected to expound on the issue and whether it conflicts with the NFL policies regarding the gaming industry, though there has been no timetable set to resolve the issue.
Gaming concerns aside, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney said Tuesday he'd like some assurances that the purchase of Manchester United won't be a burden on Glazer's responsibilities to his NFL team.
"Is he going to give the full time to operating the [Bucs] ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ that's the issue," Rooney said. "He might say, 'I'm going to send my son over there,' and it may work. But am I concerned? Yeah."
As expected, the NFL moved to strike the horse-collar tackle from the game, voting 27-5 to make it a 15-yard penalty to employ the tactic. The horse-collar tackle is the act of grabbing a player's pads behind the base of the neck, and jerking him down. The rule has been referred to the "Roy Williams rule" after the Dallas Cowboys safety who injured a handful of players using the method.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Roy can tackle within what everybody has agreed upon," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.
The league pushed off the vote that would have approved the sale of the Minnesota Vikings from Red McCombs to an ownership group headed by New Jersey businessman Zygmunt Wilf. That's not a sign of trouble, though, as other NFL owners said they believe the sale will go through without incident when it comes to a vote. The approval could come as early as Wednesday morning. The 2009 Super Bowl site also will be awarded Wednesday.
The revenue-sharing issue inched along on Tuesday. Owners spent much of their time trying to determine the definition of what makes a franchise "competitive." Owners will go from there and try to determine how to bridge the local revenue gap between big-market and small-market teams. Still, no owner could quantify how much distance remains between teams, or when the problem will be worked out.
"Sharing a portion of [local revenue] is the answer," Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt said. "I don't think you can re-invent the entire wheel. You just need to keep the wheel functioning forward. I'm optimistic. I think it will get done in due time."
Charles Robinson is the national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send him a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
this guy sucks...........
RE: Saints on the march?
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