In his first statements since word broke that Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson had altered his succession plan, Dennis Lauscha — the president of New Orleans’ NFL and NBA franchises — on Thursday said the decision will allow the teams’ “strong foundation of success ... (to) continue.”
Lauscha — who has been running the teams’ day-to-day business operations for some time now, along with Benson’s other commercial interests, and will continue to do so — added in the statement, “As president, employee, fan or stakeholder of the organization, you simply want committed and dedicated ownership who provide the resources, support and guidance to be a champion on and off the field. Mr. Benson provides these assets, and this change will continue to strengthen his support.”
Benson on Wednesday revealed that his third wife — Gayle, whom he married in 2004 — would take control of his sports properties upon his death, possibly setting the stage for a battle over the Saints and Pelicans between Gayle and his granddaughter, Rita Benson LeBlanc.
The teams’ executive leadership — headed by Lauscha and Mickey Loomis, the Saints’ general manager — will remain the same, Tom Benson has said.
Rita Benson LeBlanc had long been seen as Tom Benson’s eventual heir, first interning with the Saints in 1998 and later ascending to co-owner and vice chairwoman of the board of both New Orleans’ football and basketball teams. But she is no longer affiliated with the Saints or the Pelicans. Neither are her brother — Ryan — or her mother, Renee, the adopted daughter of Tom Benson and his first wife, Shirley.
A prior succession plan called for Renee Benson to receive 60 percent ownership of the two sports franchises, with Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc each receiving 20 percent, more than one prior report has noted.
In a statement distributed Thursday, Tom Benson said he had “thought about and prayed about (altering the succession plan) for a while now.”
“This is about the legacy of these two teams and everything we have done for the good of the city of New Orleans and our region — my primary goal is to give the organization the foundation to live on after me for many, many years,” Tom Benson said.
For her part, Gayle Benson said in a statement, “The most important thing for me is to continue to secure (Tom Benson’s) legacy in the city he loves, New Orleans, forever, and we will do that.”
Tom Benson, 87, hasn’t been in the best health since a fall during the NFL owners meeting in Atlanta in May, during which New Orleans failed to secure the 2018 Super Bowl. That fall occurred after he underwent knee surgery, and it was followed in the summer by more than one trip to the emergency room due to altitude-related complications during a portion of Saints preseason training camp held in The Greenbrier golf resort in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia.
Benson purchased the Saints in 1985 and the Hornets — now the Pelicans — in 2012. Originally founded in 1967, the Saints have made each of their 10 playoff appearances, clinched each of their five division titles and captured their sole Super Bowl championship under Benson’s ownership.
The financial success of both the Saints and Pelicans franchises — particularly the football team — has made Tom Benson the wealthiest person in Louisiana and the state’s only billionaire.