Benson outlines plan to keep Saints, Pels in N.O.

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METAIRIE, La. — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson and team officials revealed the teams’ long-term succession plans in detail for the first time on Wednesday, telling The Times-Picayune and WVUE-TV that they would be sold with the goal of keeping the teams in New Orleans and distributing the proceeds to charity.

The arrangement, which has been approved by the NFL, is similar to what happened after Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson died in 2014 and the team was later sold to Terry and Kim Pegula.

Benson, 74, and Saints president Dennis Lauscha, who would serve as the executor of her estate, said the proceeds would be distributed to charities that benefit the people of New Orleans, including the fields of education, health care, arts and sciences and humanitarian causes.

A Saints and Pelicans official confirmed details of the plan to ESPN.

“I can’t take it with me,” said Benson, who replaced her late husband Tom Benson as owner in 2018 and has no heirs of her own. “God gives us gifts, and this is a gift. I am a steward for this [organization]. And we help other people with it. My wish is to scatter all the good and gifts that God and Tom have given me to this city and community.”

According to the report, the decision to distribute proceeds to local charities originated when Tom Benson was still the owner. The issue of long-term succession has been a curiosity ever since Tom revealed in 2015 that he wanted to leave his franchises to Gayle, whom he married in 2004, instead of his daughter and grandchildren. That set off a bitter legal feud over the next two years and ended with a private settlement.

One reason the succession plan has become relevant today is because the Saints are involved in long-term lease-extension talks with the state of Louisiana and the Caesars Superdome, the lease for which runs through 2025.

Lauscha said a lease extension would tie the Saints to New Orleans long term, even if ownership were to change hands, because the NFL has a policy against teams breaching a lease agreement to switch markets. Lauscha also said a favorable lease agreement would make it more attractive for a future owner to want to stay in New Orleans.

“I want to make sure that we keep the teams here,” Benson added. “I want them to stay in New Orleans forever.”

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