Sell the Saints

Listen up Tom Benson, I’ve got an idea.
Associated Press Jonathan Bachman

Here we are in June, caught between coming down from the thrill of the draft and waiting for training camp to start in late July.

It sure seems like the longest month of the NFL offseason, but it leaves lots of time to read up on the league’s offseason happenings and how teams and players are gearing up for the fall, and, of course, there’s the ever-popular off-field shenanigans.

With all of that free time, the mind wanders, ruminations brew and, sometimes, thoughts are connected, and ideas develop. Such has been the case for me.

Saints owner Tom Benson has been in the news more often, I suspect, than he would like.

For the past year and a half, Benson has been locked in a family dispute over succession of the Saints and the Pelicans. Upon his death, he wants to give the teams to his wife. His adopted daughter, Renee LeBlanc, and her children, Ryan and Rita, say the teams are already in a trust set up for them and can’t be taken away unless replaced by something of equal value.   

As if a high-profile family feud wasn’t enough, the Saints are involved in a federal lawsuit with Tom Benson’s former personal assistant, Rodney Henry, who alleges Gayle Benson had him fired after he complained that she made racially discriminatory comments toward him and that he was refused pay for hours of overtime work.

On top of running two professional sports franchises, that’s a lot for anyone to handle. The 88-year-old should be enjoying the fruit of his life’s work, not fighting over it.

Another storyline I’ve been following is the metamorphosis of Peyton Manning from Super Bowl-winning quarterback to former player. With his knowledge of the game and competitive fire, there are many who think he would make a great coach or executive. Others have said he’d be a natural in the broadcast booth, adding color commentary to NFL or SEC games in coming years.

In April, Manning spoke with John Madden about his future and a job offer from CBS Sports. Madden, known to one generation as a Super Bowl-winning head coach with the Raiders, to another as a legendary announcer, and to a third as the namesake of the most popular football video game franchise in existence, advised him to either run a team or own one.

That’s when — at least for me — the clouds parted, a chorus of angels began singing, and the light of heaven shone down: What if Peyton Manning put together a consortium to buy the Saints?

With his salary plus money from his investments and numerous endorsements — Gatorade, Papa John’s and Nationwide — he’s sitting on a lot of loot. When you consider the roster of investors he could pull together, it’s entirely feasible. He’s got his father, Archie, a former NFL star, and his brothers, Eli, a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the New York Giants, and Cooper, a partner in an energy investment firm. Manning is also heavily invested in Papa John’s Pizza, and could bring in company CEO John Schnatter as a partner.

And that’s just a start. Many would line up to partner with Manning on a deal like this. It’s hard to imagine him not having the ability to raise the $1.5 billion that Forbes says the team is worth.

With the sale of the team and cash on hand, it’s likely Benson would have a quicker and easier time settling the lawsuits, healing his family and enjoying his golden years peacefully.

For the Saints and their fans, it would mean the team being owned and operated under the direction of “The First Family of Football,” a hometown team that could return the home team to Super Bowl glory.

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.



Categories: The Magazine