A Multi-Team Player
An inside look at what drives, and challenges, the president of both the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans.
“What a lot of people who want to get into sports don’t realize is that it’s a seven-days-a-week job that starts for us with NFL training camp in mid-July and won’t end for us hopefully until June with an NBA championship.”
Dennis Lauscha has come a long way from his childhood days spent crawfishing in Jean Lafitte National Park. The quintessence of “local boy makes good,” Lauscha is currently one of the most powerful players in the multimillion-dollar business of sports in Louisiana. Since 2012 he has served as president of both the New Orleans Saints pro football and New Orleans Pelicans pro basketball teams.
As Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson’s right-hand-man, Lauscha is part of the team that represents the Saints at NFL owner’s meetings and helps bring future Super Bowls to town. He helped negotiate the Superdome lease that will keep the Saints in New Orleans through 2025, as well as worked on the deal to name both the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Smoothie King Center.
The Marrero native and Jesuit High School graduate is undoubtedly a huge figure in the business of Louisiana sports, but his affiliation with the industry actually began over two decades ago while working as an accountant with national accounting firm Arthur Andersen.
Lauscha worked as the club’s auditor for four years before Benson recruited him 17 years ago. He has since held a variety of positions, including the Saints’ executive vice president/chief financial officer (2009-12), senior vice president (2006-09), and vice president, and vice president/chief financial officer (1998-2006). In addition to his duties with the Saints and Pelicans, he holds multiple roles within other Benson holdings, including New Orleans FOX affiliate WVUE-TV and Zelia, LLC.
BIZ: Can you give me a brief overview of what it is you do in your work?
DL:If it has anything to do with football or basketball operations, Mickey Loomis is responsible. I’m responsible for everything else – overseeing the clubs’ financial operations and government affairs, as well as its marketing, ticket and suite sales, legal, stadium, community affairs, human resources, information technology and facilities departments.
Everything other than the actual selecting of players and coaches.
BIZ: What is a typical day like for you?
DL: A typical day is…there is no typical day! If anything, we’re always trying to find what the best practices are in the industry and really trying to push that forward. We’re always challenging ourselves to be the best. That’s not just lip service, but actually following through – setting goals, following up to see if we hit those goals. We demand a lot of accountability from our employees. That’s the way we manage here, and it’s worked out very well for us.
BIZ: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
DL: Wow. The most rewarding day I’ve ever had was when we won the Super Bowl. But it’s the victories on the field, on the court and everything we do on the business side. It’s the feeling of victory when the stadium is sold out, when sponsorships are fulfilled, when suites are sold out, when our fans have a great experience, when we get high ratings on our customer service reviews. It’s the small victories.
BIZ: What is most difficult or challenging?
DL: What a lot of people who want to get into sports don’t realize is that it’s a seven-days-a-week job that starts, for us, with NFL training camp in mid-July and won’t end for us hopefully until June with an NBA championship. It’s a very long season with only a handful of days off during that period. You really have to be committed to wanting to put in that many hours and be motivated professionally to be focused for that long. There are a lot of small victories that motivate you throughout the season so that you can stay focused and enjoy what you’re doing.
BIZ: How do you deal with these challenges?
DL: With the length of the season, there are sacrifices. We’re away from our families and do a tremendous amount of traveling. So we try to offer all of our employees a great work-life balance. We try to involve the families as much as we can. That’s the most difficult.
BIZ: Do you have a management philosophy?
DL: I have a few management principles and philosophies, but at the end of the day what sells tickets is that first, you have to be priced right, second, your fans have to feel that you are headed in the right direction as an organization on and off the field, and third, your fans have to like your players, coaches and ownership. If you can score on all three of those, then you are going to be successful from a business perspective.
BIZ: What is your most memorable moment working in professional sports?
DL: The easy one would be winning the Super Bowl, but we have an enormous amount of power inasmuch as we are able to affect the community in positive ways. I can tell you the opening of the Superdome after our return from the evacuation from Hurricane Katrina, that night, the Steve Gleason blocked punt. I mean…It was heart-wrenching.
BIZ: What do you enjoy doing most in your spare time?
DL: Spending time with family. I have two young children, and they’re just an absolute joy to be with. We try to take advantage of our time to take trips to the Gulf Coast or do a staycation in New Orleans and visit a lot of our local attractions.
BIZ: Do you have hobbies?
DL: I truly love the profession of business. If I’m not at work, I’m usually reading about business, reading business magazines or searching the Internet about old businesses. I love the concept of businesses and companies and their role in society.
BIZ: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
DL: When I was on the first day of the job with Arthur Andersen I had lunch with the managing partner, and I asked him the same question you just asked me. He said there will be days when you’re on the highest of highs or the lowest of lows, but the true professional is one that can stay even-keeled through everything. It was a great piece of information he passed on to me.
BIZ: Who has been the biggest role model in your life? Why?
DL: Without question, Tom Benson. He is a true role model. As a businessman, he’s done truly amazing things. He’s completely self-made. He came from humble beginnings and has built a truly successful organization. He’s well into his 80s now, and has the same work ethic now as he did 17 years ago when I started working here. He’s always challenging himself. He’s always challenging us to be better. He’s always looking for opportunities. But he also really cares about the community. He’s constantly giving back. I’ve seen a side of Tom Benson that a lot of people don’t get to see, and that’s the caring and giving side. When he sees something negative about New Orleans in the national press, he jumps all over it. When he sees a company considering leaving, he’s the first one to pick up the phone, make the call and ask them to stay invested in New Orleans. He truly cares. If you look at his calendar, he’s got more charitable events planned now than at any other time in his life. He does it because he knows it’s important.
BIZ: What might someone be surprised to know about you?
DL: I don’t like crowds. For a guy whose job it is to sell crowds, who wants to see large crowds, one of the best things I like doing is getting away once in a while and going to a museum or someplace where it’s really quiet. I’m in big crowds more than 100 times a year, so it’s nice to get away.
BIZ: If you weren’t working in pro sports, what would you like to be doing instead?
DL: I think about that all of the time. I started my career working for a public accounting firm, so I’d probably be with a public accounting firm. Regardless, I’d hope I’d give it my all, take pride in it, be successful and help the organization accomplish its goals.
BIZ: What’s it like to be a native and serve as president of the Saints?
DL: It’s a dream come true, to be perfectly honest with you. My friends and family were always gigantic Saints fans. I listened to and watched the games as much as I could when I was a kid. I went to the University of Alabama for undergraduate school and missed the heck out of not going to or being able to watch all of those games.
I think I have a neat perspective as president since I began as a fan. I know how much the Saints mean to the community. A lot of people who have my position with other teams are not from the city in which they’re working, but I have a real feel for how much the fans love our teams. To be quite honest with you, that goes into every big decision we have to make, whether it be ticket or concession prices. Whatever it is, the conversation here is always about the fans and what it means for them.
It’s vitally important to me that we always keep our eye to what the fans want, what our fans’ expectations are and how we can achieve them. We want to deliver the best product we can.
Name: Dennis Lauscha
Hometown: New Orleans
Family: Wife, Jennifer; son, Patrick, 10; daughter, Evy, 7
Education: Jesuit High School, New Orleans; University of Alabama, bachelor’s degree in business; Loyola University of New Orleans, master’s of business administration; the NFL Managers Program at Stanford University’s Executive Education Graduate School of Business; licensed Certified Public Accountant
Honors: 2014 Distinguished American Award, Allstate Sugar Bowl Chapter of the National Football Foundation/College Football Hall of Fame; Alumnus of the Year, Loyola University of New Orleans’ College of Business; Young Leadership Council 2010 Class of Role Models.
Community Involvement: Visiting Committee of the Loyola University School of Business; NBA’s Team Advisory Council of Presidents; NBA All-Star Game Host Committee; Stuart Hall School Board of Trustees; Louisiana Museum Foundation Board. He has previously served as board president of the Preservation Resource Center, president of the regional chapter of the Boy Scouts of America and as a member of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Blight Transition New Orleans Task Force and of the Super Bowl XLVII Host Committee.
Lauscha with his family at a Saints game.
Lauscha oversees everything about the Pelicans and Saints outside of selecting players and coaches.