Now that all the “I’s” are dotted and the “T’s” are crossed, New Orleans native Tom Benson is the new owner of the New Orleans Hornets.
Benson, who already owns the New Orleans Saints, reportedly bought the Hornets from the NBA for $338 million.
The NBA acquired the team in 2010 from majority owner George Shinn, who founded the franchise in Charlotte in 1988.
The purchase is a big one for Benson, the Hornets and the city of New Orleans.
For Benson, it puts him in an elite category with individuals such as Paul Allen (Seattle Seahawks/Portland Trailblazers) and Mike Ilitch (Detroit Red Wings/Detroit Tigers) as an owner of two professional American sports franchises.
For the Hornets and their fans, New Orleans is and will be the home for the Hornets for the foreseeable future. Talk of a new owner possibly trying to relocate the team has made the 2011-2012 season uneasy. But NBA commissioner David Stern made it clear that he wanted the Hornets to remain in Louisiana, and the Benson deal will do just that.
Benson has owned the Saints for almost 27 years, so the Hornets have gained a businessman who knows how to not only run a company, but also how to run a professional franchise.
The Saints have become a consistently top-tier NFL team since 2006 and won the Super Bowl in 2010, so Benson knows what it takes to have a successful franchise.
But to ultimately be successful, a team has to have star players and a great coaching staff. The Saints acquired quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton in 2006, and the franchise experienced immediate success, winning the NFC South division title and going to the NFC Championship Game.
Will Benson shake up the unsuccessful Hornets in a similar fashion?
In order for the Hornets to be successful, the team needs more “star power.” Shooting guard Eric Gordon has shown sparks of stardom, but he has been injured throughout most of the season and has already refused to sign a long-term deal with the Hornets.
The Hornets’ blunders this season cannot be blamed solely on head coach Monty Williams or general manager Dell Demps. But it remains to be seen whether Williams or Demps have done enough during their tenures in New Orleans to convince Benson to allow them to stay with the Hornets next season.
After Benson bought the Saints in 1985, he hired a new head coach (Jim Mora) and a new general manager (Jim Finks) in 1986.
Is Benson willing to spend the amount of money it will take to acquire NBA superstars?
It is not a secret that Benson has made huge moves to try to find success with the Saints. He traded his whole draft in 1999 to acquire running back Ricky Williams from the University of Texas with the No. 5 overall draft pick. He also took a chance on Brees after Brees had surgery for a torn labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder.
Furthermore, Benson said during a press conference Friday that the Saints were close to completing a long-term deal with Brees. The deal is expected to make Brees one of the highest paid players in the NFL.
If Benson is willing to push the salary cap, arrange long-term contracts with high-guaranteed money and offer large signing bonuses to acquire star players for the Hornets, the future could be looking bright for the Bees.
Could the Hornets suffer from being the Saints’ “little brother”?
Benson is going to learn quickly that the monetary success he is having with the Saints is not going to happen immediately with the Hornets. The merchandise sales from the Saints are among the best in the NFL, whereas the Hornets are not anywhere close to the top in the NBA.
The sports fans of New Orleans do not have the same passion about the Hornets as they do the Saints.
The Saints have sold out the Superdome for the past six seasons, and the team boasts 73,000 season ticket holders. The Hornets have not been nearly as successful. The Hornets reached a club-high 10,000 season ticket holders last season in the New Orleans arena, which holds 18,500 people.
With Benson’s attention split between the two franchises (and his other businesses), it would be no surprise if he favors the more profitable Saints at times and puts the Hornets on the backburner. The downfall of owning two franchises is Benson is not allowed to focus solely on one franchise.
But according to Forbes.com, Benson is worth 1.1 billion dollars, which was enough to convince Stern that Benson would be able to maintain the Hornets franchise.
With all things considered, Benson’s purchase is good for the Hornets. The young 85-year-old has found the formula to success with the Saints, and his desire for money and passion for winning will drive his motivation to make the Hornets a lucrative and successful franchise.
About the Author
Written by Jarred LeBlanc
A New Orleans native who was a sports writer for the Daily Reveille from 2008 through 2010.