Tom Benson Rumors
Just as it appeared the NBA would depart New Orleans for the second time, Benson stepped in and provided a stable, local owner Stern could sell to the NBA’s Board of Governors. “There were a lot of people swirling around who desperately wanted to buy the team and move it,” Stern said. “But if there was an ideal or perfect candidate to own it, it was Tom Benson. He was always our target. We were fortunate he warmed to the idea.”
“Whether it’s (head of basketball operations) Mickey Loomis or (team president) Dennis Lauscha, we have a very good team in place there alongside Gayle,” Stern said. “Things are in place now. There’s a naming rights deal in place, and the sprucing up of the arena and the ticket sales and the sponsorships. It’s working. And there’s no reason it won’t continue to work.”
But a source who worked directly with Tom Benson during his purchase of the Pelicans said over the weekend that there was no doubt that Gayle Benson would keep both teams for the foreseeable future. “There may be some changes later, but nothing imminent or early,” the source said. And any notion of the Pelicans moving any time soon is tempered by the reality that the Pels, thanks to the league’s revenue sharing plan, don’t really have much financial incentive to sell.
The Pelicans’ lease at Smoothie King Center runs through 2024, though. And if Gayle Benson isn’t looking for a quick flip of the franchise, the likelihood of anything happening, at the very least, before then appears remote. And the NBA has gone to great lengths to ensure the stability and viability of a franchise in New Orleans since the then-Hornets moved there from Charlotte in 2002. The franchise’s history with the city and state has been one of deal making that has helped the franchise remain economically viable as it fights for audience share locally — the Pelicans are currently 25th in the league in attendance, per ESPN.com, at 16,418 per game. The NFL’s Saints, which Benson also owned, are the clear top dog in town for fans’ affections, but they had a 35-year head start on the basketball team.