NFL May Move Saints to Los Angeles
The Washington Post reports the NFL will consider relocating the Saints to Los Angeles if New Orleans is unable to recover from Hurricane Katrina. The newspaper cites three sources familiar with the league’s deliberation on the matter.
The Saints have been based in San Antonio since they were forced out of the Crescent City by the damaging August hurricane. But the sources say the league has no interest in the Texas city as a permanent home for the club.
Los Angeles is the second-largest television market in the country and has been without an NFL team since the Raiders moved back to Oakland after the 1994 season.
Mark Maske and Leonard Shapiro’s story: Saints Could End Up In L.A. (E1)
The NFL will consider relocating the New Orleans Saints to Los Angeles if New Orleans is unable to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, three sources familiar with the league’s deliberations on the matter said. The NFL plans to return the Saints to New Orleans if the city demonstrates it can still support the team, the officials said. But they said the league is concerned that the area will not be able to fully bounce back and is thus open to the possibility of having the Saints play in San Antonio next season and then move permanently to Los Angeles.
“We’re going to try to ride out the rest of this year the best way we can,” a source involved in the discussions said. “They could very well spend another year in San Antonio. If you’re looking at it long-term, L.A. is a no-brainer. But I also think we need to give New Orleans and Louisiana a shot. We have absolutely no obligation to San Antonio. None.”
A decision to move the Saints would be a major blow to civic pride and morale in New Orleans as it seeks to rebuild. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) plans to make the state’s case for keeping the franchise in the city this weekend when she meets with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
The club’s usual home stadium, the Louisiana Superdome, was damaged by Katrina and its subsequent use as a shelter for people displaced by the hurricane, but officials said the building remains structurally sound and they have begun repairing it. The repairs will cost an estimated $125 million to $200 million and could be completed as soon as mid-October next year, Superdome officials said. They added that they are debating whether to begin previously planned improvements that would cost an additional $175 million.
Superdome officials said they expect all, or practically all, of the cost of repairing the building to be covered by insurance money and federal funds. But the state would have to come up with a different means to fund any improvements. State officials are hopeful that the Saints could split their home schedule between LSU’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and the Superdome next season.
Even before Katrina hit, there were reports that Benson was interested in moving the team after this season to San Antonio, where he has strong business ties, or Los Angeles or Albuquerque. Benson said at an owners’ meeting last summer that he had received a $1 billion offer for the franchise from potential buyers he refused to name. He has since alternated between saying he had no intention of leaving New Orleans and saying he would consider all options. He said the club needed a new stadium, not a refurbished Superdome, to be competitive. There were reports that the Saints had sold only about 25,000 season tickets at the Superdome this season.
The Saints have already taken steps to attempt to void their lease at their training facility. Officials said they have until Nov. 27 to exercise a clause in their Superdome lease that enables them to void the lease and leave New Orleans without having to repay the state $81 million in subsidies if the Superdome is unusable. State officials said they would contest any attempt by the Saints to exercise that clause.
Benson issued a written statement last week saying that he had made no decisions about the future of the team beyond this season. A Saints spokesman said Wednesday that the team had no further comment about its future.
A shame under the circumstances but hardly surprising.