In marking the publication's 35th anniversary in 2015, New Orleans CityBusiness has announced that New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans Owner/Chairman of the Board Tom Benson has been honored as one of the publication's "35 Driving Forces" of the New Orleans business scene. The criteria of selecting the honorees of the 35 local business leaders concentrated on their contributions to the New Orleans community following Hurricane Katrina.
Benson, a New Orleans native, who originally held vast automotive, banking and real estate holdings in the region, first purchased the Saints in 1985 and bought the NBA Pelicans franchise in 2012. In addition to his ownership of the city's two major sports teams, Benson also made two other business deals post-Katrina that have made a significant impact. In 2008, he purchased the local FOX television affiliate WVUE, making FOX-8 the only network-affiliated station in the New Orleans market that's wholly locally owned. In 2009, Benson purchased two large buildings in New Orleans' Central Business District adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Smoothie King Center. The newly renovated Benson Tower office building has served as a boon to the CBD's business corridor. Champions Square, which made its debut in 2010, is continually being developed and enhanced with the ultimate objective of producing a world-class sports and entertainment destination.
Since 2006, the Saints have enjoyed unprecedented success posting a 93-62 overall record, including five playoff berths, three NFC South titles, two NFC Championship appearances and the Super Bowl XLIV title. Saints games have been sold out on a season ticket basis for 91 consecutive games since 2006 and the club has leased every suite since 2008. Under his leadership, the team's upgraded playing facility was rebranded the "Mercedes-Benz Superdome" following a 10-year comprehensive agreement with Mercedes Benz USA.
Since purchasing the NBA team, Benson oversaw a successful rebrand into the Pelicans name. Prior to buying the club, the Pelicans had wrapped up a 21-45 season in 2011-12. Through deft moves by Benson's leadership team through free agency, the draft, trades and player development, the team's record now stands at 26-22 in 2014-15. The Pelicans have seen a significant increase in season ticket sales and merchandise sales have seen the second-biggest growth in the NBA in 2013, followed by another significant increase in 2014. The club also reached a multi-year agreement with Smoothie King to rename their playing facility the "Smoothie King Center."
It has been Benson's intentions for both clubs to be leaders in the community. He helped raise over $2.5 million for community causes through the Saints Hurricane Katrina and Gulf Coast Renewal Funds. Benson also oversees more than $10 million in annual charitable contributions, goods and services to deserving local organizations in addition to countless appearances at local schools and events by players for both organizations as well as a commitment to youth football and basketball development.
A special event honoring these leaders will be held on March 23 at the New Orleans Museum of Art and the "Driving Forces" honorees will be profiled in the April 17 issue of New Orleans CityBusiness.
The top 100 fan photos from the 2014 season by New Orleans Saints official team photographer Michael C. Hebert and Matthew Sharpe. (New Orleans Saints photos)