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Are the New Orleans Saints Worth the Price?

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


The plan seems to be “Keep the Saints at any price.”Â  Proposals at Louisiana’s state capitol to give millions of dollars a year for decades to come is steamrolling through the legislature.  Governor Bobby Jindal says the deal will “save hundreds of millions of dollars, while making what will be an incredibly successful investment ” in the state.  Even the state’s largest newspaper is all a goggle, calling the proposal a “win-win-win-win situation.”Â  But how good a deal really is it?  Considering the state’s precarious financial situation with huge cuts coming in education and health care, it has to be one heck of a deal for anyone to send out cheers and accolades.

Start with the premise that any aid to Saints owner Tom Benson is even necessary at all.  No other professional football team receives any state funds.  Not one.  And New Orleans is not all that small of a market.  Teams like the Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers operate in similar or smaller television markets and do quite well without any state funding.

The Saints will receive $6 million in direct funding, and this is being embellished as a reduction of what the state is paying them now.  But there is much more the Saints will receive that is every bit as valuable as direct payments.  $85 million will come out of the state treasury to upgrade the Superdome.  But the upgrades greatly benefit the Saints and mean significantly more profit.  Most of the money will go towards building new luxury boxes and new club lounges, all which mean more high priced tickets for the Saints to sell.  The state pays the cost, and the Saints get the income.

The there is the agreement for the state to lease office space in a downtown office building adjacent to the Dome being purchased by the Benson interests.  This is one of the more questionable parts of the purposed agreement.  Right now, the state has offices scattered throughout New Orleans to service a cross section of citizens needing state help.  All these offices are to be consolidated in one of the busiest parts of New Orleans where parking is both expensive and scarce for both state employees and taxpayers who need to go there for help.  

The state is to lease more than 320,000 feet at $24 dollars square foot, which is one of the highest rental rates in the state today.  Knowledgeable realtors in New Orleans will confirm that in today’s market, when a potential renter is willing to lease as much as 320,000 square feet, a deal could be made to obtain top office space for rent in the $13 dollar a square foot range. So the state is basically paying the cost of the building the Benson group is buying.  If buying the Dominion Tower was such a good deal, the state should have opted to buy the building itself.  After all, Gov.  Jindal’s mentor, former Gov. Mike Foster, made the case that the state should build and own buildings for state employees, and proceeded to do so all over downtown Baton Rouge.

But what about all these projections of how much the economy in New Orleans will be positively impacted, with millions more in tax revenue. Figures are being wildly thrown around with little study indicating a $500 million economic impact, and a University of New Orleans study, quoted in a Times Picayune editorial, estimated some $22 million in state revenue is produced by the Saints.  Here’s the fallacy.  Any such study assumes that all of the dollars spent at Saints games are dollars that are new to the region’s economy.  Most dollars spent going to the Dome are dollars that would have been spent on other leisure activities in the area.  There are numerous choices as to how to spend leisure dollars.  Going to a football game is just one such choice.

Job creation is also part of the hard sell to make this proposed Saints deal more attractive.  The Times Picayune concludes that the Saints provide almost 4,000 full and part-time jobs.  But the major numbers of jobs are part-time, intermittent positions with low wages and few benefits.  Hawking hot dogs and beer or cleaning up after the fans go home is not a sure fire route to prosperity.

The Brookings Institution did a recent 500 page study titled Sports, Jobs and Taxes.  They concluded that professional sports teams “realign economic activity within a city’s leisure industry rather than adding to it.  Professional sports,” they write, “are not a major catalyst for economic development.”Â  They are saying, in effect, that all the public subsidies accomplished was to help shift spending from other forms of entertainment to  stadiums like the Dome, with little net employment gain or significant increase in new tax dollars.

A later report  by Brookings found that numerous other studies have all concluded the same thing.  “Independent research by a number of independent groups has uniformly found that there is no significant positive correlation between sports facility construction and economic development.”Â  Consultants, often hired by team owners who say otherwise, according to the Brookings study, “are peddling snake oil.”

Right now, the State of Louisiana gives the Saints $23 million a year as a direct subsidy.  But Saints owner Tom Benson is no fool.  He’s not about to give up such a good deal for much less in the future.
So what will he actually receive?  $6 million direct from the state, plus an estimated additional $6 million benefit annually from the new luxury suites he can sell, all part of the $85 million in improvements to the dome.  He then gets a new office building with high rents guaranteed by the state.  In addition, the Saints gain an additional $2.5 million in rentals from the adjoining office mall and the adjacent parking garage.

So all in all, the Saints end up with a new contract guaranteed through 2025 that seems to be every bit as attractive as the contract they have right now.  A deal worth more than $20 million dollars paid for with state funds. The city of New Orleans does not put up a penny.  Yet no other NFL state or city scratches the surface of giving such a hand out.  God bless old Tom Benson.  He once again has made off like a bandit, and cut himself one heck of a deal.

Finally, the argument is made that there is an intangible value to New Orleans and the state to have the evening sports news  talk about “The New Orleans Saints” as if to entice future visitors to come on down  to the Bayou State.  Oh yes. When you hear about The Green Bay Packers or the Cincinnati Bengals, doesn’t that just make you want to pack your bags and head for Green Bay or Cincinnati?

Look, most of us are Saints fans, and want the team to stay in New Orleans.  But it all comes down to priorities.  The state is facing major short falls in many critical areas.  The Saints are a luxury and nothing more.  Responsible legislators need to look closely at just how important a football team is to Louisiana, and at what price.  Right now the price is high; maybe too high. But don’t worry about the Saints. They are just coasting along on the fast train of state subsidies and a singin’  “Loot, Loot, Loot for the Home team.”


     The pride and the presence of a professional football team is far more important than 30 libraries.”

                                                    -Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

You can read more of Jim’s writings along with all past columns by going to his website at www.jimbrownla.com.

10 Responses
  1. allahollah

    AMEN, Jim!!! However, it is all in vain. The deal will pass the Legislature and the “Benson blackmail” will continue. ENOUGH SAID!!!

  2. Thanks Jim. Great column.

    I well remember the late Buddy D bringing an economist on his WWL radio show and spending the next 20 minutes berating him because he dared to say the economic impacts of super bowls were vastly overstated. People love the Saints me included but the economic arguments in support of the subsidy are exposed as hollow when you peek under the hood.

    All that said I’m still glad they made a deal but that is much easier for me to say on this side of the state line. It isn’t much but my wife and I have done a full weekend with a Saints game the reason for coming – the impacts just aren’t as great as UNO makes it out.


  3. AMEN, Jim!!! However, it is all in vain. The deal will pass the Legislature and the “Benson blackmail” will continue. ENOUGH SAID!!!

  4. John Wilson

    Tom Benson is a high powered used car salesman and nothing more. All the BS about getting another Super Bowl is just geared to helping New Orleans run by mayors like Nagin and about 75,000 saint fans. When John Schwegman fought to keep the Dome from being built with taxpayer funds and based this on the fact that it could not survive without taxpayer help. Why don’t they just give the Dome to Benson and let him run and maintain it without taxpayer help. I think all of the taxpayers of Louisiana will come out better.

  5. Joe Reynolds

    If the Saints can’t support themselves they don’t belong in N.O. The entire state shouldn’t have to support New Orleans and the Saints.
    Recreational programs are suppose to produce their own profits.
    Giving the Saints good state and city tax breaks is enough.

  6. Greg

    Sports franchises simply do not return a state’s and city’s investment in them.

    It is like taking water out of one end of a pool, putting it in the other end, and calling it progress.

    Frankly, with economic conditions the way they are, Benson could not move or sell the team right now anyway.

  7. Lonewillow

    OK??? What do we expect TOM BENSON, sometimes referred to as the “used car salesman,” has again sold the state another “bill of goods” that is probably going to have to be overhauled again with a new governor in a few years!!!! Isn’t that the way the SAINTS remain in Louisiana!!!! Like used cars…you need another one, that is, contract with every new governor…oh, WELL, “AIN”T” that Louisiana politics and the way the state does business!!!

  8. Don W.

    Jim, you bring to light a good question. Like many Louisiana Football Fans, I am a follower of the Saints. But we need to be realistic and make hard priority decisions in this very cash straped state. When the governor and legislature are making hugh cuts to our universities, and education in general, we cannot justify giving one cent to the Saints. If a small market like Green Bay can survive without state tax dollars the Saints should be able to do the same. Mr. Benson is using the state with a straight face. Our young people and Education Professionals are being cheated. Jindal claims to be a fiscal conservative only when it benefits his supporters or friends. What about education and health care, which continues to suffer in this state. What a disgrace and shame.
    Thanks Jim for this outlet,

  9. Hardy Parkerson

    If this guy knows so much about football, why hasn’t he had a winning team in many years? Cleveland may have good baseball teams, but their football teams are a joke. Even when he had a great coach like Butch Davis, he fired him, even before Davis could build him a team
    like he did in Miami and like he’s doing at North Carolina. There is more to it all than this, but this is something to think about. No, the Government of Louisiana should not be footing the bill for a professional football team any more than it should for a professional band. Private business is a private matter and the government should stay out of it, merely regulate it where it needs regulating. The State of Louisiana needs to do away with sales taxes, especially on food and medicine and to sell some of the assets it has–such as Angola Plantation–to private industry and thus lover the tax burden of its citizens. Sincerely, Hardy Parkerson, Lake Charles

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