A Note on the Pelicans Ownership Succession Plan

Published: January 22, 2015

Last evening, Jeff Duncan, in a very detailed piece, reported that the succession plan for New Orleans Pelicans and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson has changed.

You can read Jeff’s piece to get more details about what was, but I’ll remind you of what is and give the short of what will be, per the new plan.

Currently, Tom Benson owns:

  • The New Orleans Saints
  • The New Orleans Pelicans
  • WVUE, a New Orleans television station
  • Benson Tower and other real estate
  • Banking and retail interests, most famously, car dealerships
  • A pile of other stuff billionaires own

The succession plan deals with all of his holdings and all of his family, but, again, we are sticking with the Pelicans. The Saints are hand-in-hand with the Pelicans here, so I’ll mention them a bit, too.

Now, the plan is for Mrs. Gayle Benson to own the teams. The teams will be in a trust, and she will be the trustee.

Without getting into every possible detail, a trust is an independent ownership entity that has some major components to keep in mind:

  • Settlor / Grantor: Tom Benson. His property will be held by the trust.
  • Trustee: Gayle Benson. She will direct the trust in its actions. In practical terms, she will act as the owner but she must act in the best interest of the beneficiary, reasonably speaking.
  • Beneficiary: Gayle Benson. She will receive the “benefits” of the property in the trust. For example, if the Pelicans make $1,000,000 that would be the owner’s to spend, the beneficiary gets the money. Mrs. Gayle is the trustee, but that is coincidence here.
  • Terms: Rules that bind the actions of the trustee or the existence of the trust itself.
  • Trust Law: It’s not the Wild West. There are rules that are unavoidable. In particular, this keeps parties from changing the terms they do not like at the drop of a hat, among many, many other things.

So, a trust is like a will, but it is a little more complex. It has more pieces, it is private, it can endure beyond the initial transfer of ownership, and it can come with a mountain of rules.

This added complexity is important, but so is the privacy issue. The goings-on in a trust need not be made public, unlike a will, so the team divulging this information is either a preemptive move if they felt this information would come out anyway, or it was a message sent to the millions of unofficial stakeholders in all of Mr. Tom’s enterprises, or both. There could be other reasons, I’m sure. None of this has been a huge secret, but it also has not be shouted from the rooftops. The last iteration I heard in private conversation well over a year ago was very similar to this arrangement, but it involved Ms. Rita, too.

Back to the complexity, the terms govern the trustee, in this case, Mrs. Gayle. We do not know the terms, but the terms could very well preclude the trustee from selling or relocating the team in most circumstances. Most. It won’t be all circumstances, as that’s not best for business.

Secondly, a trust can have a succession plan that is independent of the desires of the trustee. For example, if the beneficiary of the trust dies, the trust rather than intestacy law or a will can govern who the next beneficiary is.

Summarily, Mr. Tom’s desires can have an effect on ownership long after he passes.

Will they? I have no idea, but it’s on the table. Mr. Tom was Chairman of the NFL’s Finance Committee for about 20 years, so he’s pretty savvy about this stuff. He’s also surrounded himself with a pretty smart management team. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with some of them from time to time about and range of topics from the obvious things one may ask about to trouble with our glasses. If he wants something in there that’s allowed by law, it’s in there. Also, it is expected that this management team will remain in place, basically, for the remainder of Mr. Tom’s ownership and beyond.

Looking to the future, we start in the past and present. Not only are Mr. Tom and Mrs. Gayle from the area, they have become increasingly entrenched. From purchasing a house in Audubon Place off St. Charles Avenue by Audubon Park, massive donations to local institutions, Mrs. Gayle joining the board of Tulane (their neighbor) to purchasing the Pelicans, the Benson’s show an ongoing and growing commitment to the area that was not so obvious just 10 years ago. My hope is that all parties allow this to be an enduring commitment.

Closing on a note about the Pelicans specifically, Mr. Benson has gone through great and surprising lengths to integrate the Pelicans into his enterprise and into the city. Mixing his Saints staff with that of the Pelicans, bringing the Pelicans Practice Facility onto the Saints site and putting millions of his own money into it, rebranding to the Pelicans, and more all show that this entity will be hard to pry apart from the Saints organization. Moreover, Mr. Tom purchased the team once it was clear it would end up leaving New Orleans if another group purchased it. After that departure, the city would be damaged by the absence and by the scuffing this would leave on its reputation. Despite the rough shape the organization was in on the business side (and it was roughroughrough), despite the advice of his closest business advisers, despite the fact that he would likely never see that organization truly successful, he bought it.

He bought it for us. He bought it for our kids.

That’s what I was told, and that is what I believe.

At this point, all I can do is put my trust into him yet again and hope for the best after the worst happens.

Thanks again, Mr. Tom.

Press release

New Orleans Saints Owner Tom Benson has restructured the ownership transfer and control of the Saints and New Orleans Pelicans. The transfer of ownership will not occur until the time of Mr. Benson’s death. At that time, Gayle Benson will assume control of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, in addition to other Benson properties.

“This is something I have thought about and prayed about for a while now,” said Benson. “Over the past 60 years, I have been fortunate enough to build a number of successful businesses not only in New Orleans but also in San Antonio. Throughout those years, I have included my family as well as a strong management team around me to run these businesses, whether they be banks, automobile dealerships, television stations or professional sports franchises. I want to continue this model of proven success. This is about the legacy of these two teams and everything we have done for the good of the city of New Orleans and our region –my primary goal is to give the organization the foundation to live on after me for many, many years.”

Benson added, “I agree that this is somewhat of a change in what has been formally declared but this is best for our teams and our community.”

The New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans will remain under the same management structure, with Gayle Benson serving as Owner that has seen both teams prosper and grow. The management structure of having a small team of senior managers oversee both the Saints and Pelicans will remain in place. The executive level management will continue to be led by Dennis Lauscha (President) and Mickey Loomis (Executive Vice President/General Manager). The senior level management team will remain in place with Greg Bensel (Senior Vice President of Communications/Broadcasting), Jean-Paul Dardenne (Senior Vice President of Corporate Partnerships), Ben Hales (Senior Vice President of Marketing & Business Development), Ed Lang (Senior Vice President/CFO), Vicky Neumeyer (Senior Vice President/General Counsel) and Mike Stanfield (Senior Vice President of Sales).

“Continuity is very important and this plan ensures that,” said Benson. “We have had the same management team in place that oversees both teams for a number of years. It has proven to be successful and it works. Dennis and Mickey will continue to run the operations as they have done day-to-day for the last ten years or so. They consult with me daily, but they will continue to have the same authority they have always had with making decisions, large and small and this will continue even when Gayle becomes owner. This is a good structure…the only difference is that my wife Gayle, will be in control of the Saints and Pelicans when I die, which I can assure you will not be anytime soon.”

Mr. Benson will continue to represent the Saints and Pelicans at the various league and owners’ meetings. And as has been the practice for many years, joining him will be Lauscha and Loomis, as well as Gayle Benson.

“While I have slowed down a bit due to this bad knee, I am still very actively involved in every aspect of my businesses and take part daily in decisions that affect all of my businesses,” said Benson. “I enjoy it, I truly do. I love being in the office and being around the coaches and players and staff and being a part of what they are doing. I have just come to a point in my life where I need to make some tough decisions on how things are going to be planned out. My wife, Gayle, is very important to me. She is born in New Orleans. She has been a businesswoman in this city for many years and is actively involved in many charitable organizations, the Catholic Church, hospitals, schools and university boards, to name a few…I am very proud of her. She is the most logical and natural person closest to me that will ensure the continuity, the stability and the success of our Saints and Pelicans in the city of New Orleans for a long time. The future is bright and secure for both teams here in New Orleans. Plus, she will be surrounded by the best management team in sports in my opinion, just like I have been, who are committed to this community and committed to winning championships.”

“Finally, when family members are involved, decision are always tougher,” said Benson. “My family, as they have been their whole lives, will be very well taken care of, however, this is about making the correct decision as it pertains specifically to the future of the Saints and Pelicans and their long-term success in the city of New Orleans, where they belong.”

The NFL and NBA have been informed of the succession plans set forth by Benson.

Q & A With Tom Benson (From the Organization)

Why now?

As I noted, with my knee and the few surgeries I have had on it during the past year, it has given me time to reflect on a number of issues that we will face in the distant future, not only with the Saints and Pelicans but also my other businesses like the banks, real estate, the ranch, the Benson Tower, WVUE-TV Fox 8 and of course my automobile dealerships here in New Orleans and San Antonio. This is a decision that I have decided was in the best interest for the long-term stability and success of our football and basketball teams. That is a lot to think about. And there are a lot of people and families impacted by decisions that need to be made and so I thought now was the right time. This is not something that came about overnight, but over time.

How or why did you decide on the change in ownership structure of the two teams from your family (i.e. Renee LeBlanc, Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc)?

As I noted, I have had time to reflect and figure out if we have the ownership succession plan correct after I die. And you know, my wife Gayle is my family too and a very important part of my life. You just know when the time is at hand to start to really think this through and make sure you have everything covered. It was documented that my daughter Renee, my grandson Ryan and of course my granddaughter Rita would have a large part of my estate, upon my death, including the two teams and other assets. However, this is a decision about the legacy of things that I have built in my lifetime – my family, including Renee, Rita and Ryan, just as they have been – will be very well taken care of after I die. But to finish my thought, this is based solely on doing what is right. I have spent the better part of my life building businesses and as a byproduct of building successful business, I have been fortunate enough in my life to be able to make sizeable donations over a long period of time that directly influence my community – the city of New Orleans. It is what I am most proud of in my life. And right behind that is the joy I get watching our fans after we win, and secure championships for our city. We have tasted that before and we want to provide that again. For that to continue we need to plan for the future and we need to keep the continuity and stability of what we have built at the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans. My wife Gayle will ensure this. Her love for New Orleans and giving back to the community she loves is unmatched.

Rita has been positioned for a long-time to be the eventual owner of the teams and represent them at league and owners’ meetings. What will be her role?

Gayle will own the teams upon my death and as I noted Rita will not be involved in the ownership or management of the Saints or Pelicans. My family, just as they have been for their entire lives, will be well taken care of. The reason for my decision is about laying the foundation for the Organization to continue to be successful.

What happens to the teams when Gayle Benson dies?

Well, since I do not plan on dying anytime soon, and I think Gayle will be around a long time. I am not sure how urgent that question is…but there is a plan, without going into great details, for the team to be set long term here in New Orleans.

Additional Quotes

“My husband is an amazing man and what he has selflessly done and built over his life is truly remarkable. What I have learned from him is that to build a strong community, you must first be willing to give, to help those in need and support those that are doing good, then and only then can community give back to you. The most important thing to me is to continue to secure his legacy in the city he loves, New Orleans, forever and we will do that.”


“We have built a strong foundation of success with the Saints and Pelicans on both the business side and the respective football and basketball operations. This will continue. Mr. Benson remains actively involved in the day to day operations of all of his businesses, addressing both the short and long term plans for the teams are always top of mind items and he decided now was the time to make this change. As President, employee, fan or stakekholder of the Organization, you simply want committed and dedicated ownership who provide the resources, support and guidance to be a champion on and off the field. Mr. Benson provides these assets and this change will continue to strengthen his support. ”



New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Pelicans

“Our football and basketball operations could not ask for a better owner in Mr. Benson. We have nothing but his unequivocal support and that is important. We have been a successful franchise because of it. Nothing will change with that when Mrs. Benson becomes the owner. That stability creates an environment so that players and coaches want to come here.”


Executive Vice President/General Manager

New Orleans Saints

Executive Vice President/Basketball Operations

New Orleans Pelicans

“I am glad to be both friend and spiritual advisor to Tom Benson. Through that relationship, I can assure you he is a man who daily strives to live out the values of Jesus in his daily life. He is consistent in his decisions, both personal and business, that they are rooted in faith and integrity.”


Archdiocese of New Orleans


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.