As Owner/Vice Chairman of the Board of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, Rita Benson LeBlanc is the second-highest ranking executive overseeing management alongside Tom Benson.
LeBlanc’s concentration is focused on the overall governance and the financial and civic impact of the Saints and Pelicans in New Orleans, both regionally and on an international level. Through relationships and collaborations with community partners, LeBlanc has led the organizations as host of multiple Super Bowls and the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend, where she served as a Host Committee co-chairman.
As a member of Super Bowl XLVII’s New Orleans Host Committee, LeBlanc worked closely with the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation. Super Bowl XLVII produced a $480 million net impact for the region as it welcomed over 100,000 football fans and a record-breaking 5,200 media professionals to the city. Throughout the weekend, LeBlanc and Saints players participated in over 30 community service events, including the NFL’s Super Saturday of Service, NFL Play 60 events and green initiatives highlighted by the planting of 7,000 trees around the city.
Since June of 2012, LeBlanc has worked in her current position for the Saints and the Pelicans, having made a significant impact on the franchise since being named Owner/Executive Vice President of the NFL club in 2005. In that time, the Saints partnered with Mercedes-Benz USA for the naming rights to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and in 2014 teamed with global nutritional and wellness leader Smoothie King for the naming rights to the Smoothie King Center, the home of the Pelicans.
Upon purchasing the city’s NBA franchise, LeBlanc played a key role in the development of the new brand identity, logos and color scheme as the Benson family announced on Jan. 24, 2013 that the team would be re-named the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelican is more than a nickname for the franchise, as it represents the culture and resolve of the Gulf Coast region while also symbolizing Louisiana’s most pressing initiative of coastal restoration and wildlife conservation.
After overseeing the Saints’ sales and marketing efforts, community affairs, youth programs initiatives, game day entertainment and stadium operations for seven years, in 2012, LeBlanc’s duties expanded to include management responsibilities within Zelia LLC, which includes properties such as Benson Tower, Champions Square and various interests in the family’s automotive, real estate and banking sectors and multi-media platforms, including FOX 8 (WVUE). LeBlanc led the renovation of Benson Tower, a 26-story building with over 480,000 square feet of office space, with the vision of utilizing energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly materials. Following completion, the property became the first high-rise building in New Orleans to be awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver status.
In 2009, the Benson family displayed their unwavering commitment to the future success of the Saints franchise and region through a partnership with the State of Louisiana that continued the club’s commitment to the state through 2025. As a result of the agreement, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome underwent extensive renovations and upgrades to make it a world-class facility for Saints fans and visitors. Following the debut of the renovations in 2011, the club reached a ten-year agreement with Mercedes-Benz USA to rename the facility the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The team’s renovated stadium, combined with its recently renovated and expanded team headquarters in Metairie, are both among the finest facilities in professional sports.
LeBlanc has been a driving force behind the Saints’ success, both on and off the field. In 2006, the team achieved its first full season ticket sellout prior to the start of the season. Since then, all 81 games played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome have been filled on a season ticket basis. This success, fueled by innovative restructuring of ticket prices and categories, has resulted in a season ticket waiting list of over 73,000 fans. In addition, every luxury suite has been leased since 2008 while Saints merchandise has consistently been one of the top selling lines in the NFL. On the field, the Saints have compiled an 86-52 overall record since 2006, appeared in the playoffs five times and won Super Bowl XLIV.
Her leadership role with the franchise and in the local community has been evident, as she’s played a critical role in helping build the Saints into a championship franchise and one that was voted by ESPN The Magazine in 2010 as “the best organization in professional sports.”
LeBlanc oversees more than $7 million in annual charitable contributions, goods and services donated by the Saints to serve New Orleans and the entire region. Serving the needs of a community devastated by Hurricane Katrina has been a priority. In the immediate days following the storm, LeBlanc helped establish the Saints Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, which raised over $1 million to assist the citizens of the Gulf South. Over 5,000 charities, schools, churches, foundations and festivals receive in-kind donations from the club annually.
Fostering the rejuvenated spirit of the city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region, LeBlanc implements collaboration not only on the Saints’ and Pelicans’ behalf but also on a multitude of civic, cultural and philanthropic levels through her passion for the city she calls home. She was a key figure behind an initiative in 2010, in which the club raffled off a Super Bowl XLIV ring to raise over $1.5 million, which was distributed to those most affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Following Hurricane Isaac in September of 2012, LeBlanc led both organizations in fundraising $25,000 each to local chapters of the Second Harvest Food Bank and Catholic Charities.
Another longstanding part of the club’s community initiatives has been with one of the NFL’s most comprehensive commitments to youth football. LeBlanc’s close working relationship with the league office has proved to be beneficial in securing league grants and programs that benefit Gulf South youth and charitable initiatives. Since 2006, the Saints have distributed over $2 million to high school and youth football organizations.
In 2014 she unveiled Bold Sphere Music at Champions Square, which has contributed to the dynamic landscape of live entertainment in New Orleans by bringing a variety of national touring acts to the state-of-the-art, re-designed Champions Square, which is a first-of-its kind boutique amphitheater that takes advantage of its direct proximity to downtown accommodations and is located on the same campus as both the Saints and Pelicans.
A graduate of Texas A&M University with a B.S. in agribusiness, LeBlanc also received a certificate in International Business from the Lowry Mays School of Business. She attended Stanford University’s Executive Education Graduate School of Business in 2004 as part of the NFL’s Managers Program.
Rita Benson LeBlanc is the granddaughter of Tom Benson. For print purposes she uses both of her parents’ last names. She has never been married and has no dependents.
*Three-time Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” selection (2007, 2008 and 2011) and “40 Under 40” Hall of Fame member.
*Paul Singer Award winner presented by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption (2013)
*New Orleans Young Leadership Council Class of Role Models (2011)
*New Orleans CityBusiness Woman of the Year (2010)
*W.I.S.E. (Women in Sports and Events) “Women of the Year” award (2008)
*“Changing Louisiana Award” for volunteerism and social entrepreneurship on behalf of the State of Louisiana (2008)
*Professional Football Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society Star Performance Award (2008)
*Pop Warner Female Achievement Award (2008)
*2014 NBA All-Star Weekend Host Committee Co-Chairman
*Super Bowl XLVII Host Committee Executive Board member
*Serves on Board of Directors for Louisiana Media Company
*Current or past member or board member of organizations promoting economic development in the greater New Orleans area: The Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, Greater New Orleans Inc., the New Orleans Business alliance and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Economic Development Task Force
*Board of Director for the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Organization
*Board member of the Young Presidents’ Organization
*Board of Trustees member for Loyola University of New Orleans and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Shirley Landry Benson PACE Center and the Oblate Missionary Partnership.
*Member and speaker for the Beyond Sports World Summit
*Keynote speaker at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sports Analytics Conference (2012)
·*Lemonade Day spokesman