The New Orleans Saints: Staying or Leaving?
A big post-Katrina question is what the hell’s gonna happen with the Saints??????????????????? No one has a freakin’ clue what’s going to happen, including the involved parties themselves . . .
I have no definite idea but I do have suspicions based on things I’ve read and heard. In addition, I think I have a lot of common sense. And after thinking about it for a long time, here’s the deal: I don’t have a freakin’ clue either. I have run down what I deem the potential scenarios, and none of them seem satisfactory on one level or another. I will use the space here to run them down. I don’t know. Maybe I forgot something or another, but I still can’t figure it out.
SCENARIO 1: TOM BENSON WILL MOVE THE SAINTS TO SAN ANTONIO. I’m sure that this is the scenario that Benson endorses. He’s all but said it. If he had his way, it would already be a done deal. San Antonio, Red McCombs and Texas state officials have also made it clear that they are ready to negotiate. However, there are three problems that are holding it up, which will be hard to overcome. The first would be the bad press that would come with it. It’s just another case of arrogant Texans showing no compassion or humanity in their quest to lure big business into their state. That, I’m guessing, can be overcome though (it usually is). The other problems will be harder to overcome. Moving from New Orleans to San Antonio would be considered a “lateral move.” In other words, the two cities are similar in size, economy and demographics. The NFL is only likely to consider moves to bigger markets and economies these days (Los Angeles?). And secondly, I suspect that at least one all-powerful NFL force would be against it: Jerry Jones. Do you think that he will allow a team to move into what is considered “Cowboy Country?”
VERDICT (on a 1-10 scale): 4
SCENARIO 2: TOM BENSON WILL MOVE THE SAINTS TO LOS ANGELES. This is what everybody suspects is part of the NFL’s larger agenda. The NFL wants a team in there. But do they what would be a big-money team to be run by this guy? Absolutely not. From what I’ve read, the other owners don’t appreciate what Benson has done to New Orleans either, and they don’t want him to reap the financial benefits of such a move. Tom Benson would make Donald Sterling (the owner of the Clippers) look like a model owner in comparison. To me, the NFL's attitude toward Benson is this: "Sure he's a crappy owner and a public relations nightmare, but it doesn't matter. He's in New Orleans. Nobody outside of Louisiana cares about the Saints. But when we move to Los Angeles, we're gonna have an owner who's willing to do things the right way."
SCENARIO 3: NEW ORLEANS “ALLOWS” BENSON TO MOVE THE TEAM WITH AN AGREEMENT THAT THE NFL WILL EXPAND TO NEW ORLEANS “DOWN THE ROAD,” OR THAT THE SUPER BOWL BECOMES PERMANENTLY OR SEMI-PERMANENTLY PLAYED IN NEW ORLEANS. Forget it. I don’t even think New Orleans officials are that stupid. If we allow the Saints to leave, the NFL will NEVER, I repeat, NEVER come back. And forget about the Super Bowl too. It’s too much of a carrot to dangle in front of cities that the NFL determines needs new stadiums. Just ask the people of New York and Kansas City. If the cities don’t get a Super Bowl out of the deal, and the Saints are already in Los Angeles (i.e. The owners can't play the "If you don't give us a new stadium, we'll move to Los Angeles" card, why should they do it? Secretly, I believe that the NFL isn't really that interested in moving to Los Angeles unless they target an economically-unviable team (like the Saints or Jags) to move there. How is the league going to blackmail vulnerable cities if the Los Angeles market is closed? What are they going to say, "Give us what we want, or we'll move to Louisville/Oklahoma City/San Antonio/Las Vegas/(insert aspiring "big league" city here)?
SCENARIO 4: BENSON SELLS THE TEAM, AND THE NEW OWNERS MOVE THE TEAM. Once again, I don’t think the NFL will let Benson profit from this. And Benson’s already said he could get $1 billion if he sold the team to someone who wants the Saints in Los Angeles. It would also be too much of a bad PR move for the image-conscious NFL to make the move this soon. It’s high on the verdict list, but only two or three years down the road. I think that the NFL will make Benson “prove” that the NFL cannot work in New Orleans anymore before he gets a blank check from prospective owners. More on this topic later . . .
VERDICT: 7 (down the road)
SCENARIO 5: BENSON SELLS THE TEAM TO A GROUP THAT IS COMMITTED TO STAYING IN NEW ORLEANS. This is a popular choice right now after Terry Bradshaw opened up this can of worms on national television. Now, a few weeks after reality has set in after all of our positive knee-jerk reactions, I realize that this is harder than it seems. First, would Benson go along with it? Especially considering he knows that he could get twice as much from someone wanting to move to Los Angeles. Second, does anyone in the area (including Bradshaw) have enough money or can put together a group with enough money to buy the team? I don’t know, but considering Louisiana’s economy and lack of economic infrastructure, I’m doubtful. It still could happen though, but don’t keep your fingers crossed.
SCENARIO 6: NOTHING CHANGES. BENSON COMES BACK AND ALL IS WELL. I know. Everybody’s pissed off at Benson right now, and they’re never going to support the team as long as he’s the owner. Why am I skeptical that our current vows to never support Benson again will subside in the future? I don’t know. Maybe because we were all determined that “things would change this time” in New Orleans, and very little is happening. It’s business as usual politically, so what makes me think that we will learn our lesson with Tom Benson either? Sooner or later we’re gonna come to the conclusion that the team is too important to our city, economy, morale or whatever you want to call it. We’ll rationalize that if we don’t support him, he’ll leave, and we don’t have the clout to stop him or get a replacement team. Or maybe I’m wrong this time. But I’m probably not.
In conclusion, this is what I’m guessing: Benson will get tons of money from the league and fellow owners to keep his mouth shut and stop talking about moving the team. They’ll tell him that if he just plays ball, the city will prove that it can no longer support the team. Then, maybe after the 2006 or 2007 season, he can dump it to whomever makes the best offer (local or otherwise).
But, then again, all of this could change overnight.
POST-SCRIPT: I've been watching Tagliabue's press conference as I finished up on this post, and I am still sold on this.