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Wednesday December 28, 2005 1:13 am

Will the Saints Stay in New Orleans?

Posted by Benjamin VanWinkle Categories: NFL,

With the flooding of New Orleans and heavy damage to the Superdome, the Saints lost their home stadium.  New Orleans is a relatively poor city, and faced with massive rebuilding and re-engineering costs it’s hard to imagine a speedy replacement or repair of the stadium. Team owner Tom Benson has found a temporary home field for the team in San Antonio.  Rumor has it he wants to make the move permanent, although he says “no decisions have been made regarding the team’s future, and any such decisions would be made after the 2005 season.” 

Alternately, he may try to convince NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to let him relocate the team in Los Angeles. So far Tagliabue has stated that Louisiana is the home of the Saints and that he would like the team to relocate to Baton Rouge’s LSU Tiger’s stadium for the 2006 season, but a team presence in America’s 2nd largest television market must be very tempting for the NFL.

According to ProFootball Weekly’s Hub Arkush, the NFL could help New Orleans with the cost of rebuilding or replacing it’s stadium.  A program called G-3 empowers it to loan up to $150 million to teams in exchange for revenue from “personal seat licenses” (PSL) sold by a local government agency in the new stadium.  Because the NFL is a non-profit organization, it has access to loans at lower interest rates than the teams.  And by selling the PSL through the local government, the revenue is tax-free.

The team uses this revenue stream as well as 34 percent of the revenue from it’s club seats to pay back the league and the league pays off the low-interest loan.  The current cap could be expanded to cover most or all of New Orleans’ costs to rebuild - a great relief to the troubled city.

Benson’s temporary location of San Antonio may not be the ideal location for an NFL franchise—it’s the 37th market nationally, with 760,410 potential viewers—but it’s larger than New Orleans 43rd market (audience of 672,150.)  And Texans are proven football fans—in 2004 the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans were the second and third most profitable franchises, earning $205 million and $201 million respectively.  By contrast New Orleans is a relatively weak earner, twenty-seventh in the NFL ($149 million in 2004.)

Los Angeles has an awe-inspiring market (2nd nationally) of 5,536,430 potential viewers, but it’s football audience is (historically) relatively apathetic.  It lost the Raiders and Rams franchises in the mid-1990s.  Still, it goes without saying that the NFL would love to have a successful team in LA.

Other places a NFL franchise might prosper are: (These are pure speculation on my part, but all nine markets have more audience than San Antonio.)

Portland, OR – 23rd market with a potential audience of 1,099,890, the closest team is in Seattle which is probably too much of a rival to fully engage Portland fans.

Salt Lake City, UT - 36th market with an audience of 810,830, and the state is completely untapped by the NFL.

Hartford/New Haven, CT - 28th market, potential audience of 1,013,350, relatively close to the New England Patriots home of Foxborough, MA… But the Patriots revenues are very high indicating the market may be large enough to support this.

Greenville, SC - 35th market with a potential audience of 815,460, although the Carolina Panthers would have to give up their claim to South Carolina.  The football audience is great in this area—the Carolina Panthers are the twelfth most profitable team in the NFL.

Orlando, FL - Florida already has three pro football teams but they are all solid revenue earners.  An audience of 1,345,700 potential fans lives in this, the 20th market.

Sacramento, CA - probably too close to Oakland and San Francisco (which are relatively low-revenue earning teams.) But as the 19th market it has the audience (1,345,820) to support a football team.

Columbus, OH = 32nd market with an audience of 890,770 - far enough from Cleveland and Cincinnati to justify a team of it’s own?

Milwaukee, WI = 33rd market with an audience of 880,390 - maybe Wisconsin has enough football fans to support two teams?

Raleigh, NC: 29th market with an audience of 985,200 - way too close to Charlotte’s Panthers, but potentially large enough to support a franchise of it’s own.

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