(July 12, 1927 March 15, 2018) was an American businessman, philanthropist and sports franchise owner. He was the owner of theNew Orleans Saintsof theNational Football League(NFL) from 1985 to 2018 andNew Orleans Pelicansof theNational Basketball Association(NBA) from 2012 to 2018.
As a sports team owner, Benson had aSuper Bowlvictory to his credit, via the Saints winningSuper Bowl XLIV.
Benson was born inNew OrleansLouisiana, to Thomas Benson, Sr. and Carmen Benson.4He served in theU.S. Navyand then graduated with an accounting degree atLoyola University New Orleansin 1948.56After school he worked as a car salesman at Cathey Chevrolet in New Orleans.4
In 1956, he moved to San Antonio to try and revive a poorly performing dealership; he was granted a 25 percent interest in the dealership for his efforts.4In 1962, he became full owner of Tom Benson Chevrolet.4He was the owner of several automobile dealerships in theGreater New OrleansandSan Antonioareas. Benson became wealthy by investing profits from his automobile dealerships in local banks. He eventually purchased several small Southern banks and formed Benson Financial, which he sold toNorwest Corporationin 1996.7
Benson purchased the Saints from John Mecom in 1985 after he learned fromthat the team was on the verge of being sold to parties interested in moving the team toJacksonville, Florida. Ownership of the team was officially transferred to him on May 31, 1985, with his intent that the team would stay in New Orleans.
Shortly after acquiring the Saints, Benson gained a reputation as one of the more popular and colorful owners in the league.citation neededHe hired general managerJim Finksand head coachJim Mora, who led the Saints to their first winning season and playoff appearance.
Bensons popularity later declined, however, after numerous attempts to persuade the state of Louisiana to construct a new stadium for the Saints to replace the aging Superdome, suggesting that he might move the team elsewhere if said stadium were not built.
His popularity hit an all-time low in late 2005 after it appeared he was trying to move the team to San Antonio afterHurricane Katrinaravaged New Orleans. (SeeRelocation controversybelow for more details.) He later stated that the Saints would return to New Orleans for the 2006 season, which they did. The teams fortunes improved dramatically inthe years after their return, including a 3117 defeat of the Indianapolis Colts on February 7, 2010 to winSuper Bowl XLIV, and Benson recovered much of his popularity as well.89
On July 18, 2008, the Benson-led Louisiana Media Company consummated their purchase ofWVUE-DT, theFoxaffiliate for the New Orleans area and by virtue of their affiliation, the major carrier of Saints games as part of theNFL on Foxcontract. Since the sale, the station has also become thede factohome of the Saints, including coachs shows and preseason games.
Benson was well known for doing the Benson Boogie after Saints home victories. Benson, in true New Orleans fashion, wouldsecond linedance down the field of theSuperdomein the closing minutes of the game while carrying an umbrella decorated in black and gold.10
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During the Saints 2001 negotiations with the state of Louisiana, rumors circulated that Benson would seek relocation if his requests which included renovations to the Superdome, a new practice facility in suburbanMetairie, and escalating annual payments from the state to the team could not be met. Though he never made public statements to this effect, Bensons business ties to the city and the availability of theAlamodomeas a playing facility made San Antonio the most common subject of speculation.
When it became clear thatHurricane Katrinas extensive damage to New Orleans and the Superdome would make it impossible for the Saints to play there in 2005, the team temporarily relocated its operations to San Antonio and began negotiations to play home games at the Alamodome. (The Saints, after discussions with the NFL andLouisiana State University, eventually agreed to play one home game atGiants Stadiumagainst the Giants, three games at the Alamodome and four games at LSUsTiger StadiuminBaton Rouge).
At the Saints-Falcons game on October 16, the second of two warm receptions of the Saints by the San Antonio community, mayorPhil Hardbergerstated that Benson had agreed to schedule negotiations for permanent relocation once the 2005 season is over. In reference to Benson, Hardberger said, Im pretty comfortable in saying he wants to be here.11
On Monday, October 17, Benson dismissed executive vice presidentArnie Fielkow, who had been a public advocate of the Saints importance to the state of Louisiana, and who had advocated the playing of home games in Baton Rouge. According to Fielkow, Benson told him that if hed tender his resignation and sign a confidentiality agreement, hed be paid the remainder of his contract; when he refused, he was fired outright.12
Bensons actions quickly drew outrage from Saints fans as well as local and state officials. On Wednesday, October 19, New Orleans mayorRay Naginsharply criticized Benson for acts he deemed heartless and opportunistic. Said Nagin: For them to be openly talking to other cities about moving is disrespectful to the citizens of New Orleans, disrespectful to the Saints fans who have hung in with this franchise through 30-something years under very trying times.13
Two days later, Benson publicly stated that he has made no plans to move the Saints to San Antonio. There are many factors that will affect the future location of our team, Benson said. That is also true of many other New Orleans-based companies that are faced with deciding their future homes. He said he would make no decisions about the teams future until the 2005 season was over.14
On Wednesday, October 26, Benson reiterated his commitment to the New Orleans area in the form of a full-page ad in newspapers around the region. The ad, a letter entitled Tom Benson Wants to Return to New Orleans, acknowledged the negative reaction surrounding the teams recent actions, but promised that no decision has been made regarding the teams future. Said Benson in the letter, It is too early to determine, but my desire is to return to New Orleans.15
Bensons firm but noncommittal stance compared unfavorably to the statements of the then-New Orleans Hornets, the citys displacedNBAteam. Though the Hornets played all but a handful of games during the 20052006 and 20062007 seasons inOklahoma City and even temporarily changed the teams name to the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, the basketball teams ownership insisted they would return to the recovering city as soon as possible. The Hornets also announced a community relations initiative to keep the team involved in the New Orleans area.
NFL CommissionerPaul Tagliabuemet with Benson and Louisiana governorKathleen Blancoat the Saints first home game in Baton Rouge on October 30. After the meeting, he stopped just short of making a formal commitment to keep the Saints in New Orleans. Said Tagliabue: The Saints are Louisianas team and have been since the late 60s when my predecessorPete Rozellewelcomed them to the league as New Orleans team and Louisianas team. Our focus continues to be on having the Saints in Louisiana. He dispelled rumors that have the Saints relocating to Los Angeles. He also suggested that the Saints may need to focus on becoming more of a regional team, possibly implying a name change to the Louisiana Saints or the Gulf Coast Saints. Tagliabue was to form an eight-owner advisory committee to help decide the teams future.16
That same day, Benson charged New Orleans news reporter Lee Zurik with a raised hand while leavingTiger Stadiumfollowing a Saints loss to theMiami Dolphinsand lunged at the television news crew grabbing a camera and wrenching it down before being eased away by Saints security. A video also appeared to show Benson angrily responding to a heckling fan. NFL spokesmanGreg Aiellosaid the league would likely take no action against Benson.17
On November 11, 2005, an e-mail sent to CommissionerPaul Tagliabuefrom Benson was leaked to the press. Benson stated in the e-mail that he feared for his life, and his familys safety upon his exit from Tiger Stadium, and would not be returning to any future games in Baton Rouge. Benson declared in the email that security in the stadium was inadequate and claimed that his family could all have been severely injured or killed. However, LSU officials were quick to point out that they had no negative comments from the Saints or the NFL concerning Tiger Stadium security. In addition, the videotape of Benson from October 30 showed him being escorted by at least one security guard, belying his e-mail claim that security was non-existent. A day later, Saints spokesman Greg Bensel stated that Bensons e-mail was sent in frustration, and that Benson was undecided on whether he would attend any future games in Baton Rouge.18Benson did not attend the following weeks game at Tiger Stadium on November 6 against theChicago Bears.
On November 4, 2005, Benson made a deal with Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco that would postpone two important termination deadlines in the teams Superdome lease until after the 2006 season. Benson extended hisforce majeureclause period until January 2007. Presumably that stood to keep the Saints in New Orleans until January 2007; however, Benson could still have invoked the clause any time prior to then. This seemingly bought the Saints time to explore future options with state officials without having had to make a decision on the future of the franchise immediately. This also allowed the state to focus on more pressing needs in the recovery efforts from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while allowing the Saints more time to determine whether the regions economy could rebound enough to continue supporting the franchise.19
In the midst of this controversy, several groups of investors approached Benson with offers to buy the team and keep them in Louisiana, the most publicized group being one led byFox Sportsanalyst and formerPittsburgh SteelersquarterbackTerry Bradshaw, who is a Louisiana native.20However, Benson expressed then and since that he had no intentions of selling the team and planned eventually to hand down ownership to his granddaughter, Saints owner/executiveRita Benson LeBlanc. Benson spoke to press following an NFL owners meeting on November 15, 2005 at which he reiterated that the team is not for sale, but also stated that other NFL owners, along with Tagliabue, were working with him to keep the team in New Orleans.21
On December 17,ESPNreported that Benson had told Saints players that he planned to keep the Saints in San Antonio for the 2006 season and possibly beyond, and that he was willing to sue the NFL for the right to stay there. This was days afterNFL Players Associationexecutive directorGene Upshawadvised the Saints players not to renew their leases on their homes in San Antonio because the league planned to order them to return to their home facilities in Metairie.22This was also a few days after Benson had reportedly told his staff that they could not return to their Metairie facilities because they were still being occupied byFEMAandNational Guardofficials and that the New Orleans area had become unlivable. The State of Louisiana responded by sending Benson a formal letter asking him and the Saints organization to return to the facility at the end of the 2005 season. Included with the letter were statements from FEMA and the National Guard stating that they were no longer using the facility.23
On December 30, two days before the Saints final game of the 2005 season against theTampa Bay Buccaneers, Benson announced at a press conference that the Saints were returning to their Metairie facility at the end of the 2005 season, and that the team would play as many of their home games as possible during the 2006 season in the Louisiana Superdome, which he said could be ready as early as mid-September, 2006.24On January 11, 2006, Benson and Tagliabue announced plans to play all of their 2006 home games in the Superdome. Tagliabue also stated that the NFL was committed to keeping the Saints in New Orleans beyond 2006, calling it a multiyear effort and not just a one-year deal. He also stated that the NFL was talking with city officials about possibly hosting another Super Bowl there in the near future, which would be the citys 10th. Benson stated that he was committed to New Orleans forever, as long as the community commits to me.25
In 1992, Benson made a deal to acquire theCharlotte KnightsAA minor league baseball team and bring them to New Orleans for the 1993 season, renaming them the Pelicans after New Orleansold minor league team, but the transaction was thwarted when theDenver ZephyrsAAA team relocated to New Orleans to make way for the major leagueColorado Rockies(the team became the New Orleans Zephyrs, and are now the New Orleans Baby Cakes).2627
In 1998, Benson was granted a license for a team in theArena Football League, which finally began play in 2004 as theNew Orleans VooDoo. He relinquished ownership of the VooDoo on October 13, 2008 during an owners teleconference. By this point the entire Arena Football League was in grave financial difficulty and shortly afterward filed forbankruptcy reorganizationand the2009 seasonwas never played. A subsequent AFL team with the same name which played in the early 2010s did so without Bensons involvement.
On April 13, 2012, Benson bought the New Orleans Hornets, now known as theNew Orleans Pelicans, from the NBA for $338 million.3
In 2017, Benson bought a majority stake in theDixie Brewing Companyfrom Joe and Kendra Bruno, with plans of returning the brewing operation to New Orleans within two years.28
The Benson family established an endowment fund atCentral Catholic High School, in San Antonio, Texas dedicated to the memory of their son Robert Carter Benson, who graduated from the school in 1966. Tom Benson also donated the Benson Memorial Library at Central Catholic. Robert Carter Benson died of cancer in 1985, at the age of 37.
Benson and his family long have been ardent supporters ofUniversity of the Incarnate Wordin San Antonio. TheGayle and Tom Benson Stadiumofficially opened on campus September 1, 2008, when the Bensons joined with more than 2,000 Cardinals fans and athletes to declare the facility ready for action. The stadium is wide enough and long enough that the Cardinals soccer teams, mens and womens, have begun playing their games here.
Also in San Antonio, Texas atSt. Anthony Catholic Schoolthere is a Library named after Bensons son who died of cancer.
September 23, 2010, Benson donated $8 million to Loyola University New Orleans in what will be called the Benson Jesuit Center.
In January 2012, Benson and his wife were awarded thePro Ecclesia et Pontificefor their generosity to Catholic Church, the highest papal honor that Catholic laypeople can receive.29
In November 2012 Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle, donated $7.5 million towards the construction ofTulane UniversityYulman Stadium. The stadium, which opened in 2014, brought the Green Wave back to campus for the first time since the demolition ofTulane Stadiumin 1980. The playing surface is known as Benson Field.30
In November 2014,Fawcett Stadiumat thePro Football Hall of FameinCanton, Ohiowas renamed Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in recognition of an $11 million donation by Tom Benson.31
In 2015 the Benson family gave $20 million for cancer care and research.32
Benson spent his final years in the exclusiveAudubon Placeneighborhood in New Orleans.33His brother,Larry Benson, has also been in sports ownership and owned theSan Antonio Ridersof the World League.34
Benson was married three times. His first wife was Shirley Landry who is deceased.3536In 2003, his second wife, Grace Marie Trudeau Benson (born March 1, 1927), died of Parkinsons disease.37In October 2004, he marriedGayle Marie LaJaunie Bird.3839
Tom Benson and his first wife Shirleyadoptedthree children: Robert Carter Benson, Renee Benson, and Jeanne Marie Benson.4041Renee Benson has two adult children,Rita LeBlancandRyan LeBlanc.4243Rita Benson LeBlanc was Saints owner and executive vice president until Tom Benson fired her, her brother Ryan and her mother Renee, and wrote them out of his will. She, along with her mother Renee and brother Ryan LeBlanc, then sued Tom Benson claiming he is incompetent and for control of his companies.444546Bensons only living child, as of January 2015, is Renee.47
All of Bensons property had in fact been put into a family trust whose governing terms, while undisclosed, required him to replace the shares of Saints and Pelicans stock owned by his daughter and grandchildren, with assets of equivalent value. Benson argued he did so by canceling millions of dollars worth of debt and turning over $500 million in promissory notes due in about 25 years, but trust officials disagreed. The case was settled in 2017.48
Benson was hospitalized on February 16, 2018, with the flu. Almost a month later, he died on March 15, 2018, at Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson, Louisiana, at age 90.49
Super Bowl XLIVChampion (as owner of theNew Orleans Saints)
2010Best Team ESPY Award(as owner of the Saints)
Gayle and Tom Benson StadiuminSan Antonio, TexasUniversity of the Incarnate Word) named in his (and his wifes) honor
Football field atYulman Stadiumin New Orleans, Louisiana (Tulane University) named Benson Field in his honor
Tom Benson Hall of Fame StadiuminCanton, Ohionamed in his honor
Statue inCanton, Ohio(in front of his namesake stadium)
In January 2015, after Tom Benson announced that he had cut his estranged adopted daughter Renee Benson and her adult children out of his will, he was sued by Renee and Renees two children,Rita LeBlanc(also known as Rita Benson LeBlanc) and Ryan LeBlanc ofTexas. One of Renee, Rita and Ryans complaints in the lawsuit isUpon information and belief, under the apparent supervision of Gayle, the diet of Tom Benson has drastically deteriorated, with him rarely consuming full, nutritious meals, but instead, for some reason, subsisting on candy, ice cream, sodas, and red wine.515253Renee Benson, Rita LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc are suing for control of Tom Bensons companies including the NFLs New Orleans Saints and the NBAs Pelicans, claiming he was incompetent.54555657
Benson released a statement saying that the lawsuit and claims against him by his adoptive daughter and her children were false and meritless.58In February 2015,named formerand attorney Art Bayern as co-executors of the testamentary trust of Shirley L. Benson. The two replaced Benson as trustees of the estate.59On June 18, 2015, a judge found him competent.606162
On February 19, 2016, Judge Rickhoff approved the appointment of Renee Benson, Bensons estranged adopted daughter, as administrator of the $1 billion Shirley Benson Testamentary Trust, which includes the Lone Star Capital Bank in San Antonio, half of five automobile dealerships, part of a large ranch nearJohnson City, Texas, a home atLake TahoeNevada, an airplane, and cash and other real estate holdings.
Bensons attorney said his client, after much wrangling and two weeks of mediation, chose to settle the dispute so as to live his remaining time at peace and to relieve himself of a hefty tax burden required on those assets.63
Hornets sale to Saints owner Benson official.
Los Angeles Times: Super Bowl Xxi: The Nfl Owners: The Nfc West by EARL GUSTKEYJanuary 25, 1987
San Antonio billionaire Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints, dies at 90. 16 March 2018
Benson graduated with an accounting degree from New Orleans Loyola University and served a tour with the U.S. Navy after enlisting at 17 years old.
New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson dies at the age of 90
He earned his accounting degree from Loyola in 1948
Phinisee, Tamarind; Lowe Sanchez, Sandra (2003-03-09).Auto magnate Tom Benson jumping back into bank biz.
Judy Battista,In Step: Benson Shares In The Recovery Of New Orleans,
Nakia Hogan,With Super Bowl 2013 approaching, Tom Benson remains in the spotlight,
Photos: Saints, Pelicans owner Tom Benson leaves behind lasting legacy. New Orleans Pelicans. March 16, 2018
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson does the Benson boogie on the field of the Louisiana Superdome after the National Football League teams 44-34 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Dec. 6, 1987. The victory qualified the Saints for the playoffs for the first time in the teamss 21-year history.
Mayor, Saints owner to negotiate at seasons end.
Nagin blasts Saints owner for trying to move team.
New Orleans pro teams reaffirm ties to battered city.
Displaced Zephyrs Stay Silent on Stadium Site in New Orleans,
Charlotte AA team needs new homeAssociated Pressin
Sayre, Katherine (July 26, 2017).Tom Benson to build Dixie Beer brewery in New Orleans.
The Times-Picayune: Tom and Gayle Benson receive highest papal honor for their generosity to Catholic Church by John PopeJanuary 19, 2012
Tulanes field to be named for Benson San Antonio Express-News. Mysanantonio.com (2012-11-02). Retrieved on 2013-07-29.
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson pledges $11 million to Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Center, Foundation.Gayle and Tom Benson Give $20 Million for Cancer Care, Research.
Moran, Kate.Tom Bensons home tops list of the most expensive metro area houses sold in 2008.
My San Antonio: Auto dealer was Rey Feo, known for generosity By Neal MortonOctober 28, 2013
San Antonio Todays Catholic: Central Catholic dedicates stadium to alum BensonOctober 9, 2009
Catholic News Agency: Catholic history of New Orleans Saints runs deepFebruary 6, 2010
Business Journals: Wife of Saints owner Tom Benson passes away by W. Scott BaileyNovember 18, 2003
ESPN: A bye-week wedding for Saints ownerOctober 27, 2004
Los Angeles Times: Champs Demand Respect by Sam FarmerFebruary 02, 2005
Jaquetta White (February 9, 2015).Little-known daughter of Tom thrust in spotlight.
Tom Benson and his first wife, Shirley, adopted a 5- or 6-month-old Renee Benson from the St. Vincent de Paul Orphanage in New Orleans almost six decades ago. The couple could not have children of their own. Renee was their middle child. A son, Robert Carter, was eight years older, and a daughter, Jeanne Marie, called Tootsie, was four years younger.
Nick Underhill (January 24, 2015).Tom Bensons new Saints, Pelicans succession plan has unequivocal support from GM Mickey Loomis.
Renee Benson, who was adopted by Tom Benson and his first wife, Shirley, and her son, Ryan, are also no longer associated with the teams.
Brian Solomon (April 23, 2012).Billionaire Tom Benson Benches Granddaughter, Presumed Heir, For Her Sense Of Entitlement
Jeff Duncan (April 22, 2012).Rita Benson LeBlancs conspicuous absence at high-profile events leaves some wondering about her future with N.O.s sports franchises.
Jeff Duncan (January 21, 2015).New Orleans Saints, Pelicans ownership shocker: wife Gayle, not granddaughter Rita, will control empire after Tom Benson dies.
Rita Benson LeBlanc, Renee LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc were removed from the Saints staff directory Wednesday night; Rita also had the title of vice chairman of the board with both franchises.. Renee and Ryan Benson also have been shut out from Bensons operations. Their offices at the teams facility on Airline Drive have been closed.
Mike Triplett (January 23, 2015).Controversial ownership decision intended to bring stability to Saints, Pelicans.
Multiple sources within the two sports franchises, both on and off the record, applauded the move. Many believe the transition will be much smoother if Gayle Benson becomes owner instead of Tom Bensons adopted daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc.
Brett Martel,Associated Press(January 22, 2015).Tom Bensons relatives sue over their ouster from ownership positions with Saints, Pelicans.
. Archived fromthe originalon February 14, 2015
Saints, Pelicans owner asks judge to dismiss heirs lawsuit.
, RAMON ANTONIO VARGAS.Though excluded from his will, Tom Bensons daughter and grandchildren received much from family patriarch.
Healy, John (15 March 2018).Tom Benson, long-time owner of the New Orleans Saints, dead at 90.
Jones, Cristina Sicard, Bob (3 August 2017).Pro Football Hall of Fame game to kick off in new stadium.
Darin Gantt (January 23, 2015).Tom Benson says he feels Great, just like a 50-year-old
Benson created a stir when he announced that he was taking away future control of his assets from his daughter and grandchildren and transferring them to his current wife. They in turn sued him, claiming he wasnt competent to do so, in a bizarre suit that claims his Gayle Benson is manipulating him, including the claim that shes feeding him mainly candy, ice cream soda and red wine. He in turn issued a statement saying he was perfectly capable of handling his own affairs, and that hed fight the lawsuit.
Tom Ley (January 23, 2015).Suit: Saints Owner Tom Benson Is Being Manipulated By His Scheming Wife.
Upon information and belief, under the apparent supervision of Gayle, the diet of Tom Benson has drastically deteriorated, with him rarely consuming full, nutritious meals, but instead, for some reason, subsisting on candy, ice cream, sodas, and red wine.
Mike Triplett (January 23, 2015).Bensons at odds over businesses.
Benson, 87, announced Wednesday that he plans to hand over control of the franchises to his wife, Gayle, in the event of his death. But Bensons adopted daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming he should not be allowed to do so because his health and mental capacity have significantly declined and he has fallen under the undue influence of Gayle, whom Benson married in 2004.
Rita Benson LeBlanc, family file suit claiming Tom Benson incompetent to control New Orleans Saints, Pelicans.
NOLA.com(January 22, 2015).Read the complete Rita Benson LeBlanc family lawsuit against Tom and Gayle Benson.
The suit was filed one day after Tom Benson unexpectedly announced plans to transfer future ownership of the clubs to wife, Gayle, cutting off his daughter, Renee LeBlanc, and his two grandchildren, Ryan LeBlanc and Rita Benson LeBlanc, who until recently had been designated as the heir apparent.
Larry Holder (January 23, 2015).Given Rita Benson LeBlancs volatility, Tom Bensons wife Gayle best option to take reins: Larry Holder.
Gabe Hiatt (January 22, 2015).Spurned daughter, grandchildren sue Saints owner for writing them out of will.
Mike Triplett (January 23, 2015).Bensons at odds over businesses.
David Hendricks (February 5, 2015).Hardberger named co-receiver of Benson Trust.
Judge finds Tom Benson competent to run Saints, Pelicans.
Van Darden.Tom Benson to remain in control of estate.
Tom Benson competent to run New Orleans Saints, Pelicans, judge rules.
David Hendricks, Bensons daughter controls $1B trust: Judge OKS deal after 13-month legal fight,
Temporary home venues due to Hurricane Katrina
Infobox person using certain parameters when dead
Articles with unsourced statements from March 2018
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This page was last edited on 11 March 2019, at 11:21