Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Where dat? See ya, Saints II

With the talks in Louisiana at a complete impasse, Tom Benson's plan to move the Saints out of New Orleans in the very near future is becoming more and more apparent.

In today's San Antonio Express-News, Stanley Rosenberg, an attorney in San Antonio who represents Benson, says that Benson has a strong interest in moving the Saints out of New Orleans and is actively looking to do so, with San Antonio being an option. And, with a pending mayoral runoff in the city, the candidates involved seem more than happy to jump on the bandwagon and try to make something happen.

Benson, of course, is no stranger to San Antonio. As the Express-News points out, he does have a home and business interests there. But San Antonio is similarly situated to New Orleans in terms of market size and not having enough wealth to spread around two professional sports franchises. Plus, the Alamodome would be the likely home site for such a move, and that arena needs as much if not more upgrades than does the Superdome. Take that with a potential relocation to Los Angeles lingering in the horizon, and getting the required 24 of 32 votes from NFL owners for this move seems highly unlikely.

As for Albuquerque - yes, the Saints are flirting with New Mexico too, according to the Express-News - that just won't happen. The NFL doesn't have room for a duplicate of the Arizona Cardinals.

So the obvious direction of the team is....drumroll, please....Los Angeles. Benson can draw around a $1 billion offer for the Saints (which is a great payoff for him, considering he paid around $70 million for the team in the 1980s). And all signs point to the team's departure west after the 2005 season.

The team's exit clause from its deal with Louisiana calls for a one-time $81 million payout within 90 days of the Saints' 2005 season finale. If Benson does that, he is free and clear to do what he wants. By not renegotiating the overly charitable deal with the state, Benson showed his hand. He will have his cake and eat it too, by still receiving this year's $15 million payment from Louisiana, while maintaining the ability to cut and run after 2005.

The obligation to keep the state in Louisiana would apparently still be intact even if Benson sold the team to another suitor. That would restrict offers he would receive for the team. So, if he forks over the $81 mil for the exit clause, the team could be sold to the highest bidder and moved - where else - to Los Angeles, the nation's second largest media market. That $81 million pales in comparison to a $1 billion payday.

The NFL is definitely on track to get a team to Los Angeles before the end of the decade. The Los Angeles Times has, for obvious reasons, been keeping track of the ongoings around the league. One story, entitled "Delay of NFL Game in L.A." from Christmas Day, 2004, focused on NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's goal of announcing a decision in May 2005 on a team to move to LA by 2008. While the May announcement is not expected to occur, it does signify the very high desire to push things to happen.

That same story talked about the targeted teams for a move to Los Angeles:

"Now, the New Orleans Saints look to be the franchise that could most easily relocate to L.A., especially in light of the strained relationship between Saint owner Tom Benson and the state over the need for a new stadium and the use of public money to bolster the team's bottom line. In a comment that made headlines in Louisiana, Tagliague told The Times the Saints' situation 'doesn't look like it's any better today than it was a year ago. If anything, it looks worse.'"

With that backdrop, it's interesting to note that New Orleans, which has hosted more Super Bowls than any other city and is lauded as an outstanding Super Bowl site, is not on tap to host another one through 2010. The last one in the Crescent City was 2002's classic between the Patriots and Rams. To host a Super Bowl, the host city must have an NFL franchise. Perhaps the Super Bowl schedule of hosts foreshadows what is to come.

I think Tagliabue will get his wish, far earlier than he has asserted. The Saints look like they're headed to Los Angeles in 2006, Benson looks like he's months from being a billionaire, and Louisiana looks like it will be less one NFL team - and the annual offseason headaches from Benson.

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