The New Orleans facility where the Saints play their home football games now is officially the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget agreed Friday to change the name of the Louisiana Superdome for the next 10 years.
The deal is expected to generate $50 million to $60 million for the NFL football franchise but no cash for the state, which holds the title to the 36-year-old stadium.
However, Mercedes-Benz Superdome officials told legislators that the name change could reduce - and possibly eliminate - the state's annual financial obligations to the Saints.
The renaming of the dome will create a $1.5 million to $1.8 million credit toward the state's obligation to pay inducements to the Super Bowl-winning team. Renovations to the stadium should enable the team to generate enough revenue to eliminate the inducements entirely, officials said.
"We are out of the inducement business," said Doug Thornton, senior vice president for SMG, the company that manages the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Friday's meeting was the first time financial details about the naming rights were publicly disclosed.
"This seems to be a tremendous arrangement," said state Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego.
As part of a long-term deal to keep the NFL franchise in New Orleans, the state agreed to:
- Make $85 million taxpayer-funded improvements to the dome.
- Lease space in an office building owned by Saints owner Tom Benson's family.
- Make direct cash payments, or inducements, of up to $6 million a year if improvements fail to generate at least an additional $12 million a year for the Saints.
Thornton said a percentage of the money that the Saints would receive from Mercedes-Benz, the German car maker, for the naming rights will offset the state's possible direct cash payments.
The state's obligation to pay cash to the team hinges on how much money is generated by the deal that the Jindal administration brokered with the franchise, Thornton said. The more the team makes, the less the state has to pay, he said.
The renovations to the Superdome added several thousand seats, widened the plaza level concourse and created more concession stands, according to state records. The improvements are expected to generate "incremental revenue" for the Saints that erases the state's obligations if they reach at least $12 million, according to state records. A portion of the payments from the naming rights will be counted as incremental revenue, Thornton said.
"Why didn't we sell the naming rights of the Superdome years ago?" asked state Rep. H. Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte.
Thornton said no one wanted to buy the rights until now.
Ron Forman, chairman of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District that oversees the facility for the state, said the team's turnaround made the difference.
"We are a hot spot for sports right now," Forman said.