Tom Benson’s pronouncement that he would one day bring a championship to New Orleans came to fruition on February 7, 2010 when his New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV.
The Saints’ successful march to the National Football League’s Championship level culminated with the presentation of the Vince Lombardi Trophy on a Sunday evening under warm skies in South Florida. The coveted award ceremony embodied the testament and realization of the principles that Mr. Benson has instilled in the Saints’ organization throughout his 25 years of team ownership.
Tom Benson’s pronouncement upon taking on ownership of the New Orleans Saints that he would one day bring a championship to his hometown came to fruition on February 7, 2010 when his Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV.
The Saints’ successful march to the National Football League’s Championship level has been the crown jewel of many highlights that the franchise has experienced both on and off the field since 2006. This period, featuring the Super Bowl title, two NFC Championship appearances, three division championships and four playoff berths, combined with a commitment to rebuild and enhance the Gulf South region, has embodied the testament and realization of the principles that Mr. Benson has instilled in the Saints’ organization throughout his 27 years of team ownership.
The essential qualities and directives of Mr. Benson’s tenure as owner of the Saints have been unadorned – direct all of his efforts and resources towards bringing the fans what have been consistently new levels of success on the football field, all the while supporting his hometown and the entire region by investing in the community. Mr. Benson has understood since purchasing the club in 1985 that the Saints are part of the fabric of the Gulf South: a cornerstone of the region economically and he has made them a leader in charitable causes.
Mr. Benson’s tenure of ownership has been a period defined by historic advancements in successes, whether it be measured by victories, playoff appearances, Mercedes-Benz Superdome attendance figures, national television coverage, positive economic impacts both locally and regionally, as well as serving as one of the most philanthropic and charitable citizens in the city’s rich and colorful history.
During his ownership and leadership of the Saints, Mr. Benson has helped drive the evolution of the team’s legion of fans support that reached new heights with the Mercedes-Benz Superdome being sold-out on a season ticket basis for every campaign since 2006, with a waiting list of over 73,000 people. By the end of the 2012 season, the consecutive sellout streak will extend to 71 games. These supporters turned out in record numbers to welcome the Saints home from their Super Bowl victory for a downtown New Orleans parade that exceeded 800,000 spectators.
While his work within the organization and the Saints’ turnaround is well documented, his efforts have also paid dividends for the city and the surrounding area. During his ownership tenure, the city has already hosted four Super Bowls, and was awarded Super Bowl XLVII, to be played on February 3, 2013, following a vote by NFL owners after Mr. Benson directed a successful campaign during the annual league meetings in May, 2009. He’s been the driving force behind each campaign to secure the contest, and made this latest accomplishment his top priority in an effort to present the recovery of New Orleans on an international level. Each Super Bowl has been an economic windfall that totals over $400 million, not to mention the exposure and charitable contributions the NFL makes during Super Bowl week.
Mr. Benson has made the objectives of success, support and investment in the region not only his personal direction daily, but the core values of the entire organization. Not surprisingly, success has followed, both on the field and off. When he purchased the team, the Saints entered the most compelling and memorable period in franchise history. Prior to his arrival, the club’s fans had never enjoyed a winning record, celebrated a division title or experienced the thrill of playoff victories.
But Mr. Benson’s impact was immediate. Two years after assuming the reins of the organization, the Saints hosted their first playoff contest. After multiple winning seasons, playoff berths and division titles since, the franchise has reached new heights, topped by the Super Bowl title.
His dedication to New Orleans has been among Mr. Benson’s most rewarding endeavors. Since 2005, he’s positioned the Saints as a leader in the recovery of the region in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history. The club was among the first major businesses to return to New Orleans, and in 2006 had a thrilling season that became an inspiration for a region on the mend. In 2010, through his leadership, the club established the Saints Gulf Coast Renewal Fund, which raised over $1.5 million through the raffle of a Super Bowl XLIV championship ring to help benefit the response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The efforts of the organization have continued to lift the community, with the team serving as an economic engine and a pacesetter in philanthropic contributions.
Under Mr. Benson’s guidance, the Saints have been a focal point for healing and restoration – annually putting $15 million in charitable contributions, goods and services back into the Gulf South and Greater New Orleans. He pledged the club’s commitment to the region was firm and lasting, with his focus on building a stronger and more unified city. It’s a direction that continues to evolve and expand.
Some of Mr. Benson’s most ambitious projects to date have occurred in New Orleans’ Central Business District, directly adjoining the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, starting with his 2009 purchase of the formerly vacant and blighted Dominion Tower. As part of the agreement, Benson and his family also purchased the unoccupied New Orleans Centre. The two important commercial spaces, which were vacant since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, have returned the CBD into a more vibrant and viable sector of New Orleans and revitalized an area that was largely ignored for four years. The newly renovated Benson Tower has served as a boon to this important business corridor, while “Champions Square”, which made its debut in 2010 adjacent to the former mall, is continually being developed and enhanced with the ultimate objective of producing a world-class sports and entertainment destination.
Mr. Benson’s economic investment plan, which included 2009 agreements on both a private and public level, has revitalized the Mercedes-Benz Superdome area, and the agreement with the state included a dramatic modernization of the stadium which was completed in 2011. Following the debut of the renovations, the Saints, under Mr. Benson’s leadership and Mercedes-Benz USA reached a ten-year agreement to rename the facility the “Mercedes-Benz Superdome.” The stadium upgrades and rebranding with his help include a legion of new enhancements that have significantly improved the fan experience for all events at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and kept the building competitive with new stadiums across the country.
Since its opening in 1996, Mr. Benson has strived to keep the club’s practice facility in Metairie among the NFL’s elite. In 2003, an indoor practice facility and cafeteria was constructed, along with significant upgrades to the team’s locker room, training room and weight room. This offseason, an extensive remodeling and expansion plan of the team’s headquarters has been implemented, assuring that the facilities would remain at the top level of professional sports teams.
Mr. Benson’s vision of what an NFL club should be off the field – proactive, with a positive impact on the prosperity of the community and the charities that support the less fortunate – has been the determining factor of the Saints’ approach.
The Saints’ owner has not only reached out by supporting charities, but also by recognizing that the future of the area’s economy depends on keeping major businesses and employers in the Gulf South locally-owned. His philosophy is to rebuild the economy by developing the infrastructure of the region from the inside, and Mr. Benson has made two other large investments in the city’s future, encouraging a number of other businesses to follow his example.
In 2008, he purchased WVUE, making FOX-8 the only network-affiliated television station in the New Orleans market that is wholly locally owned. After researching the trends of the media industry, Mr. Benson discovered television stations have increasingly become parts of national media conglomerates, and his focus remains on keeping Louisiana businesses owned by those with ties to the state.
In April, 2012, Mr. Benson continued his commitment to the Gulf South by agreeing to purchase the National Basketball Association’s New Orleans Hornets. His objectives in ownership of the basketball team will be the same as his stewardship of the Saints: to produce a team on-the-court that will compete for championships every year, while making a significant positive impact off-the-court in the community.
Since 2006 – when New Orleans captured the nation’s imagination by winning the NFC South and advancing further into the postseason than ever before – the Saints have been symbolic of the region’s resolve and grit, though Benson, as usual, chooses to work quietly in the background.
His tenure as owner has been defined by honesty, dedication, loyalty and commitment to the city, region, Saints and the NFL. When Mr. Benson initially became interested in purchasing the club in 1985, he was motivated by the threat of out-of-town investors planning to move the club from New Orleans. He was certainly a fan of the game and the Saints, but the sport had yet to become one of his passions.
As one of the area’s top businessmen, Mr. Benson recognized the importance of the team to the region and immediately spearheaded the effort to keep the Saints. But unlike others at the time, it wasn’t just an emotional plea. He pooled all of his resources, purchased the club in 1985 and preserved the Saints for the team’s legion of fans across the area. And the once-rampant speculation that the club was moving immediately ceased.
While Mr. Benson’s initial motivation for purchasing the team was to ensure it did not leave New Orleans, all of the Saints’ best seasons have come since his arrival, and his goal remains for the club to rank among the most admired franchises in all of sports, a feat that took a monumental step forward with the Saints’ first-ever NFC and NFL championships in 2009 and their continued success. Following the 2009 season, ESPN The Magazine ranked the Saints first among professional sports organizations, based on several criteria. In the fall of 2012, recognizing his significant contribution to the organization, Mr. Benson will be inducted into the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame.
So perhaps the Saints’ successes in the years since were to be expected. Football was a new business for Mr. Benson when he arrived on the scene, but he was a quick learner and followed his lifelong professional philosophy of finding the right people and giving them the freedom to handle their responsibilities.
Mr. Benson also immediately emerged as one of the most trusted and valued figures in the league. He has played a key role in many capacities, including three stints as Chairman of the Finance Committee, one of the league’s most difficult, time-consuming and influential positions. The assignment is evidence of the respect and esteem in which successive NFL commissioners and his fellow NFL owners hold him. He is also a member of the league’s Audit Committee.
Community involvement has been the hallmark of the Benson era since he became the owner of the team, and because of those efforts the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame has twice recognized the club as one of the five most charitable professional organizations. Benson was selected by the Volunteers of America as the winner of its annual Good Samaritan Award in Philanthropy in recognition of his work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In 2010, he was honored by Loyola University with the school’s Integritas Vitae Award, the New Orleans’ school’s highest honor. The award is annually presented to an individual who exemplifies the qualities Loyola seeks to instill in its students. The recipient is chosen for displaying high moral character and selfless service, without expectation of material reward or public recognition, and adhering to the principles of honesty, integrity, justice and the preservation of human dignity. In addition, Mr. Benson was honored by the New Orleans chapter of CRIMESTOPPERS with the James J. Coleman Corporate Partner Award for his continued support of the national non-profit organization that works with law enforcement agencies in their work to identify and apprehend criminals.
For his humanitarian and philanthropic endeavors that have positively affected the lives of so many individuals and groups, Mr. Benson was recently honored by the Roman Catholic Church with an Oblate Doctor of Human Letters (to a person who has achieved the human purpose for which Divine Providence Placed Him on Earth) certificate that honors his “realities of the most noble of human endeavors, weighted by criteria arising from the deepest human values.” The certificate also honors “excellence in the area of life where excellence makes the most difference,” and further cites his “attributes and accomplishments that come closest to what God would be interested in honoring.” In 2012, Mr. Benson and his wife, the former Gayle Marie LaJaunie, a fellow native of New Orleans, received from Pope Benedict XVI the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award – for outstanding service to the Church and the Pontiff, the highest Papal award granted to a lay person.
Mr. and Mrs. Benson are also personally involved in several charitable endeavors, including supporting local and regional causes. Mr. and Mrs. Benson have also funded the building of a football stadium located on the University of Incarnate Word Campus, known as Gayle and Tom Benson Field. The school’s team took to the field for the first time in 2009 and will continue to grow and build their foundation with Benson’s unwavering support. In addition, the Benson family also established an endowment fund at Central Catholic High School in San Antonio that is dedicated to the memory of the late Robert Carter Benson, who graduated from the school in 1962. Tom Benson also donated the Benson Memorial Library at Central Catholic. In 2010, Mr. and Mrs. Benson received the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), honoring his support of Catholic Education. In March, 2012 they were inducted by Tulane University into the Paul Tulane society, recognizing their significant generosity to the school.
A cancer survivor, Mr. Benson has also worked closely with the Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans with the Establishment of the Tom and Gayle Benson Cancer Center, a $20-million treatment complex.
In 1945, Mr. Benson served in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. South Dakota and has remained particularly close to this branch of the armed forces. He is the only enlisted man to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Pensacola Naval Museum and has been honored with an award from the crew of the submarine U.S.S. Louisiana. In 2007, Mr. Benson was honored by the U.S. Navy Memorial with the Lone Sailor Award, presented to those who exemplify the core values of honor, courage and commitment. In 2009, Benson was presented with U.S. Army’s Army Strong award in recognition for his position in the community while demonstrating leadership and Army Values on a daily basis.
A leading advocate for the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., Mr. Benson was also a major contributor and past director of The National D-Day Museum in New Orleans, with his pledges helping fund the Pacific Exhibit Grand Opening and the Midway Theater. In 2011, he was among five NFL owners honored with an American Spirit Award by the museum for service in the war.