After a year of multiple health challenges, long-time Saints owner Tom Benson has announced a significant change in his plans for the future control of the NFL and NBA teams he owns. The Saints have announced that, upon the passing of Mr. Benson, ownership will transfer to his wife, Gayle Benson.
The development represents a dramatic change of plans for Mr. Benson, who had intended to bequeath the teams to his daughter from a prior marriage, Renee LeBlanc, and her children, Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc.
“I have had time to reflect and figure out if we have the ownership succession plan correct after I die,” Benson, 87, said in comments released by the team. “And you know, my wife Gayle is my family too and a very important part of my life. You just know when the time is at hand to start to really think this through and make sure you have everything covered. It was documented that my daughter Renee, my grandson Ryan and of course my granddaughter Rita would have a large part of my estate, upon my death, including the two teams and other assets. However, this is a decision about the legacy of things that I have built in my lifetime – my family, including Renee, Rita and Ryan, just as they have been – will be very well taken care of after I die. But to finish my thought, this is based solely on doing what is right.
“I have spent the better part of my life building businesses and as a byproduct of building successful business, I have been fortunate enough in my life to be able to make sizable donations over a long period of time that directly influence my community — the city of New Orleans. It is what I am most proud of in my life. And right behind that is the joy I get watching our fans after we win, and secure championships for our city. We have tasted that before and we want to provide that again. For that to continue we need to plan for the future and we need to keep the continuity and stability of what we have built at the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans. My wife Gayle will ensure this. Her love for New Orleans and giving back to the community she loves is unmatched.”
For years, it had been presumed that Rita Benson LeBlanc would assume ownership of the Saints after Mr. Benson’s death. That now will not occur.
“Gayle will own the teams upon my death and as I noted Rita will not be involved in the ownership or management of the Saints or Pelicans,” Mr. Benson said. “My family, just as they have been for their entire lives, will be well taken care of. The reason for my decision is about laying the foundation for the organization to continue to be successful.”
Mr. Benson added that a plan is in place or the Saints to “be set long term here in New Orleans.” Which is extremely good news for Saints fans.
“My husband is an amazing man and what he has selflessly done and built over his life is truly remarkable,” Mrs. Benson said. “What I have learned from him is that to build a strong community, you must first be willing to give, to help those in need and support those that are doing good, then and only then can community give back to you. The most important thing to me is to continue to secure his legacy in the city he loves, New Orleans, forever and we will do that.”
While a surprise on the surface, it’s not a shock that Mr. Benson decided to alter his plan to give the Saints to his granddaughter. In 2012, Rita Benson LeBlanc was removed from the football business due to concerns about her management style, which caused her to have 30 different assistants in six years. In 2013, the NFL rejected a “poison pill” in coach Sean Payton’s new contract that allowed him to leave the team if Mickey Loomis no longer served as General Manager, based on the belief that Payton wanted Loomis to remain in place as a buffer between Payton and Rita Benson LeBlanc.
Moving forward, the buffer no longer will be needed, because Rita Benson LeBlanc will not own or operate the team.
“When family members are involved, decision are always tougher,” Mr. Benson said. “My family, as they have been their whole lives, will be very well taken care of. However, this is about making the correct decision as it pertains specifically to the future of the Saints and Pelicans and their long-term success in the city of New Orleans, where they belong.”