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New Orleans Saints Owner Gayle Benson focused on delivering team that wins, makes community proud

Q. As you enter your first season as owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, what are your plans for the season, are there any specific changes you plan to make to how the teams operate?

A. My biggest goal as owner is to honor the legacy of my husband. He set such a great course for the franchises and made sure I would be prepared to take over, though I hoped it would not happen for many more years. He was so clear in how we wanted the teams to be run. First and foremost, is making sure we always do the right thing for the fans. That means fielding a team of players, coaches and staff who represent our fans and city in the best possible way. We both have always believed so strongly in the good our team can do for the community and the responsibility we have to make the community proud of us. In fact, we just put a quote from my husband up on one of the walls in our offices that says, “The best thing we can do for New Orleans is to win. Our city holds its head higher, walks taller and shines brighter when the Saints win.” I think that sums it up perfectly.

Q. Are there any specific ways you plan on honoring Mr. Benson this season?

A. Yes, we will honor my husband in a number of ways throughout the season. I was so touched by the reaction of our fans when he passed away - particularly by the thousands who came to his visitation, attended his funeral or participated in the second line. I know he was smiling at the celebration of his life and we will continue to do that throughout our NFL and NBA seasons. This will include “TB” jersey patches, helmet stickers and other remembrances. He will continue to be a part of our gameday experience.

Q. Speaking of gameday experience, what should fans expect to see in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this season:

A. We were very proud to be ranked as having the best game experience in the NFL last season and that is certainly a credit to both our fans and staff. My husband always said “you don’t stay number one by sitting on your rear end reading your press clippings, you have to work even harder to stay there”. I agree with him 100 percent and we have challenged our staff to reach even higher this year and find new and innovative ways to make the experience even better. Our overall goal is to create an environment that encourages our fans to really participate in the game through their passion - which helps us win games. Our fans create an energy and environment that is truly intimidating to our opponents and the better we play, the louder our fans are. Just like our coaches work hard to put our players in the best position to win, our staff is working on new ideas to help engage our fans and put them in the best position to help us win. That means every person in the building - whether ushers, ticket takers, cheerleaders, team staff - have an opportunity to influence the game and create a great experience.

Q. There has been a lot of discussion in pro sports recently about the role of cheerleaders and dance teams in modern sports. How do you view that role:

A. You know, I have given a lot of thought about the history of cheerleaders and dance teams in professional sports. As a woman, I am always concerned about anything that could be considered objectifying, exploitive or demeaning to women. This is particularly true when you consider how accomplished, intelligent and committed so many members of the Saintsations have been over the years. They have been role models to thousands of young girls and their love for the Saints is unquestioned. Interestingly, approximately 80% of the thousands who viewed the stream of the Saintsations tryout finals on our website were women between the age of 25-34. We have taken a hard look at what the role of the Saintsations is intended to be and whether we are most effectively accomplishing those goals given how our society has changed and evolved over the years. The way I view it, the purpose of the Saintsations - or any other entertainment team we have - is to help create a great environment in the stadium (which helps us win) and represent the values of the team in the community off the field. Again, we have asked ourselves whether we are putting these members of our team in the best position to accomplish those goals. We will be making some changes and improvements to the Saintsations program (as we do with all of our gameday elements) this season that we hope will serve our goals and enhance the game experience for our community. I believe it is important that we adapt and change just as our game changes and the needs of our fans change.

Q. What are your plans for the season, will you be attending the games:

A. Of course! I don’t intend to miss a single one! My husband started a great tradition of having Mass celebrated in the stadium before every game and I will continue to do that. He also loved heading down to the field before the game to show his support for the players and coaches and I will do the same. It’s a great opportunity for me to be able to interact with our fans, which my husband enjoyed so much, and I’m really looking forward to. I know it’s going to be bittersweet doing these things without him but take comfort in knowing we will be fulfilling his wishes and making him proud.

Q. What are your expectation for the team on the field this season:

A. I think both of our franchises are heading in the right direction and I’m excited for our fans. Like my husband, I always believe we are going to the Super Bowl! If you don’t believe that, why bother being in the business? I have great confidence in our team and am excited about building off the success of last year. We all know that wins last year don’t count this year but I’m really excited about the mix of veteran and young talent on our team and the coaching staff we have. I think we have a team that can compete with anyone and am praying hard for a great year for team and fans.

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