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Saintly Succession: Gayle Benson’s plan to give back to the community, keep Saints in New Orleans

Gayle Benson
Gayle Benson(WVUE-TV)
Updated: Sep. 29, 2021 at 10:00 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - It’s a topic that seems to come up at least once a decade -- what is the future of the New Orleans Saints and will they stay in New Orleans? Gayle Benson, owner of both the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, said in an exclusive interview the teams are not going anywhere.

Benson has owned the teams since 2018 when her husband and longtime Saints owner, Tom, died. In an exclusive interview with FOX 8′s Lee Zurik and Jeff Duncan with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, Benson laid out plans on her succession which includes the future of both sports teams and how she plans to give back to the community.

Read more from Jeff Duncan on ‘The Succession’ at nola.com

“I’m 74 years old, we’re going to all die one day, and I know that, so I am a steward,” Benson said. “God gives us gifts. And this is a gift. And we help other people with it.”

Benson’s plan includes giving back to the city and the region in the sale of the team to its next owner. That new owner will be selected by Saints President Dennis Lauscha, with one condition set by Benson -- the team must stay in New Orleans.

“Tom Benson, he came up with the idea of leaving everything to me. And then of course, I have no heirs. So my wish, and Dennis is the executor of my estate, my wish is to scatter all the goods and gifts that God has given me, and that Tom has given me to this city and community,” Benson said.

The Saints and Pelicans owner said that while she hopes she has many years left, her succession plan includes selling both teams, with Lauscha in charge of the sale of the team and giving back to the community through the Gayle and Tom Benson Foundation.

“It will be part of the foundation and then the foundation would be given money to the city on an annual basis. It’ll go on forever,” Benson said.

Benson said one stipulation when the Saints are put for sale is that they will stay in New Orleans.

“That’s going to be one of our stipulations when we sell the team is that it stays here, so we won’t sell again, it won’t sell to another person that wants to take it away,” Benson said.

Lauscha, who is the executor of the Benson’s will, is a Jesuit graduate who became a trusted adviser of the Benson’s after joining the Saints organization in 1998.

“I will tell you that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mr. Benson, a tremendous amount of respect obviously for her [Mrs. Benson],” Lauscha said. “You know what this team meant to them, I know what this team means to the city and you know I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that that decision on who the next owner is an owner who is committed to this to this community as he and she were.”

If something were to happen to Lauscha, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis and another longtime trusted adviser, Greg Bensel who serves as the Saints Senior Vice President of Communications, would select the next owner.

Lauscha said the search for an owner, will take time.

“Certainly don’t want to play games here. You know the will of Mr. or Mrs. Benson was at their death, find the right owner. But there is a period of time that exists,” he said. “Typically what we’ve learned from Mr. Benson’s estate and whatnot, there is a period of time that, that is allowed to get things in order and to make sure we have enough time to make the best decision on who the next owner is going to be. It certainly won’t be a rushed decision by any stretch of the imagination.”

Lauscha said the search and decision could take months to a year to complete.

Forbes values the Saints franchise at nearly $3 Billion, Benson’s endowment will likely produce tens of millions of dollars a year for New Orleans and the region. Benson acknowledges that is a large gift to the community but one she knows she can’t take with her.

“You can only have so many cars, so many houses, so many boats and so many planes and then giving away makes you happy. And so that’s where my pleasure comes from, of having enough money to be able to give away. And when you feel that way, it’s just logical to me. I mean, what else do you do with it? I wouldn’t know,” Benson said.

Lauscha said the money will be distributed on an annual basis through the foundation.

“We could do a tremendous amount of good,” he said. “What other entity or person would be donating billions of dollars to the city to help you know, education, the poor health care, arts and sciences. That’s what she wants to do. That’s the impact that she and Mr. Benson want to have for this community.”

Lauscha said there is an advisory committee that is established to sit down with Benson to decide where the money will go. He said people apply for grants and the impact of those will be reviewed by the committee.

The Saints current lease in New Orleans expires in 2025. The State of Louisiana and Saints continue to work on a new long-term deal that could lock the team through 2035, and potentially longer, something the Saints say they’re pushing for to ensure the team remains in New Orleans.

“In the NFL bylaws, if you have an agreement, if you have a lease agreement, you can’t or you’re not supposed to [relocate],” Lauscha said. “That’s one of the ways that you can’t relocate so the longer I can get on our lease extension, we know at least for that period of time, there’s no relocation possible.”

The National Football League has endorsed the succession plan that will likely make the Gayle and Tom Benson Charitable Foundation the largest philanthropic organization in Louisiana.

“There is no armored car behind a hearse, it’s just not there,” Benson said. “I mean, you have to do something with the money. You can’t take it with you, you can’t burn it. So you scatter it because they are gifts that God gave you throughout the community.”

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