With the purchase of the New Orleans Hornets yesterday, Tom Benson now has a monopoly on professional sports in downtown New Orleans. Any time you have a change in ownership, I don’t think it’s ever perfect or all bad, and there are pros and cons to any switch. In this case, though, it’s what the city of New Orleans needed and it gives the Hornets franchise and sports branding in the Gulf Coast the most hope… for now, at least.
I do find it comical that one of Benson’s comments from yesterday is how important keeping the Hornets in New Orleans is to him when he tried his damnest to champion a Saints move to San Antonio during the Katrina era. Of course most of us either don’t know that, or we choose to forget it. While Benson’s mostly gotten a pass in New Orleans since Katrina thanks to the Saints coming back and becoming so successful, it is something I will never forget. He saw an opportunity when New Orleans was at it’s weakest to desert it and if it weren’t for NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the Saints would not be in New Orleans right now. If Tom Benson had had his way back then, the franchise would be the San Antonio Saints. So there’s a bit of hypocrisy and misguided happiness in the cheers of fans who applaud this Hornets purchase. All that said, since Benson has come back, the viability of the Saints have been a pleasant surprise and it’s satisfied Benson enough to stick around. There’s no doubt the Superdome upgrades and the 6 straight sellout seasons have helped make Benson “fully committed” to New Orleans. But now that there’s good will towards Benson again, this could actually help attendance at Hornets games too.
While I admittedly trust Benson as far as I can throw him, and I insist he’ll only be loyal to New Orleans if it pads his bottom line, I do think his public letter to New Orleans sports fans yesterday was oustanding:
“Dear NOLA Sports Fans,
It’s a privilege to communicate with you for the first time as the new owner of the Hornets as I embrace the challenge and advantages local sports fans will enjoy from my long-standing ownership of the Saints and member of the New Orleans community. I understand the passion of our fans and the partnership our sports teams have forged with the state of Louisiana.
I first want to reiterate with our recent ownership announcement and new lease agreement with the state, your Hornets are here to stay for generations to come. I am so excited and proud to be the steward of both professional franchises that are held so dear to the people of this wonderful region.
I can’t say enough about the unwavering support and dedication of all our fans as we understand and don’t take for granted your commitment and passion for our teams and how essential that is to our overall success.
Please understand that my resolve will be to continue to make you proud and build both professional franchises into a championship caliber organization. The renaissance going on in our city is something I amproud to be a part of and as an organization, we will continue to capture the spirit of the “New” New Orleans into our culture in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and New Orleans Arena during our games and throughout our extensive community endeavors.
We will continue to do with the Hornets what we’ve tried to accomplish over the years with the Saints: create exciting and memorable experiences for our beloved fans, perform like champions in all we do, inspire and engage this community in creating a limitless future and remain proud global ambassadors for our hometown of New Orleans.
Thanks again for being part of something special.
Go Saints and Go Hornets!
The most positive part of all of this is that while the Hornets are only technically guaranteed to stay in New Orleans till 2024, the NFL has a rule that their owners can’t own franchises in two cities. So the Hornets can’t leave unless they take the Saints with them, or Benson ends up selling the franchise again. The latter is of course much more likely, but it does give more security than having an independent owner, especially with the other suitor based out of California.
As for the uniformity of the Saints and Hornets having the same owner, I feel like that will propose benefits and challenges. The Saints are a very well run business and Benson’s team knows how to manage this new purchase properly. Conversely, the NFL is very different from the NBA and the Hornets have a lot of good people in place that now are in jeopardy of losing their jobs. Hopefully Benson gives the current regime a chance to prove themselves with his vision before he replaces them with his own people. Another negative is we’re all in with Tom Benson now. If the owner goes rogue or unhappy, it’s not just a Saints problem anymore. It’s a problem with New Orleans sports entirely.
For now, though, I stay cautiously optimistic that this is a step in the right direction. It’s certainly huge compared to the NBA owning the team, which was a PR nightmare for them, and a crippling handicup for the fans and front office. That said, the NBA did a fantastic job turning the Hornets’ franchise around from being untouchable and in shambles to a viable purchase. The season ticket commitments are solid and there’s reason for optimism going into next year. The Hornets have little payroll going into next year, they’re likely to have 2 top 10 picks (with one of those potentially being a top 3), and they’re an Eric Gordon extension away from most likely fielding a pretty competitive team in year 1 with Benson.
But while this was the best case scenario at the moment, stay guarded with the rememberance that Tom Benson pushed hard for the worst case scenario of the Saints leaving town in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Simply put, things can change very fast and we have no idea what the future will bring. The fact that business is thriving for Benson right in the heart of New Orleans, though, makes this purchase a solid and safe one for now that people in New Orleans should feel pretty good about.