Envisioning the future of the Saints and New Orleans
I write today with a heavy heart and a saddened soul. New Orleans has been knocked flat on its back, and it will be years before things return to what will be a new normal. The city as we knew it before probably will never be quite the same again, neither in style nor in spirit. So many buildings around town will have to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up. Several people uprooted by Katrina will become grounded elsewhere, likely never to return. Mardi Gras is an afterthought.
And, aside from all else that truly matters, it is a virtual certainty from this writer’s perspective that like many citizens displaced due to dreadful circumstances beyond their control, the NFL’s Saints – and, for that matter, the NBA’s Hornets – will never call New Orleans home again.
The legendary Superdome has been left in shambles, its roof a national symbol of the city’s destruction. Mayor Nagin has declared it will be nearly four months before people are even allowed to return to Orleans Parish. Other sources indicate that it will be at least a year before reconstruction of residential homes will be able to begin.
Meanwhile, the now-homeless Saints are in California, preparing to play a preseason game at Oakland tonight. After that, they will go to San Antonio. Beyond that, nobody knows where they will hang their helmets. The team is considering all its options, and may play this season anywhere from the San Antonio Alamodome to LSU’s Tiger Stadium. Then, who knows?
(On a side note, the NBA’s Hornets also will likely play the entire 2005-06 season away from the New Orleans Arena. One short-term option is the LSU Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Long-term, however, is uncertain, for the same aforementioned reasons. The team could be a possible candidate to move to growing Las Vegas, site of the 2007 NBA All-Star game.)
Looking at the big football picture, a New Orleans recovering from such cataclysmic devastation will not be able to sustain a professional sports franchise for the foreseeable future. There will be few businesses, scant hotel revenues, nor enough people to support such a team for years to come. Money will be at a premium as reconstruction efforts begin.
Which means that, lease exit clause or not, from a purely business perspective the Saints simply cannot remain viably in New Orleans. Neither the team nor the state can afford it.
Some might contend that Tom Benson would be heartless to sell or move the Saints at a time like this. But the alternative of keeping the team in New Orleans for the next few years is just not a realistic option. The sheer economic impact of Katrina will be tremendous, and the entire city and much of the surrounding area will be in a massive rebuilding mode not seen in this country in modern times.
In addition, the state was relying on hotel and motel taxes to make annual payments to the Saints under the terms of the present lease agreement. Those tax revenues had been insufficient before; now, they will be all but eliminated by Katrina for the next several years. If the state could not afford to pay to keep the Saints in New Orleans before Katrina, it certainly cannot do so now.
Ultimately, cold as it sounds, the most logical result is that the Saints will move to Los Angeles in 2006 – not because of greed or pressure, but because of circumstance. It only adds to the epic tragedy that is Katrina. The city and the NFL already have plans in place to make such a move. Benson already has received an offer of $1 billion for the team from L.A. investors. And the stadium is already there, ready to go.
As is well-documented on this site, all signs seemed to point to the Saints moving to Los Angeles after the 2005 season anyway. Unfortunately, Katrina virtually ensures it will happen now. And, in all likelihood, the team will have a new name, a new logo, and a new identity.
But, perhaps there is a silver lining amid the many dark clouds of despair. Perhaps the present destruction wrought by Katrina is a guarantee for an NFL franchise to return to New Orleans in the future.
Follow me on this.
Maybe, in a few years, once the city has been rebuilt and businesses and people are thriving there again, the NFL will seek to add an expansion franchise to New Orleans to reward its resolve and thank it for the nine Super Bowls it hosted.
Maybe, like Cleveland’s Browns, the Saints can be re-born.
Maybe a new stadium can be built with support from the NFL, much like the support that will be similarly provided for a Los Angeles franchise.
And maybe those living in shelters now will one day be sitting in a gleaming state-of-the-art facility, cheering a new team, live on national television, from a rebuilt and thriving New Orleans.
Until then, all that really matters is not between the sidelines of a football field, but between the evacuee lines at shelters across the region.
With that (and not football) in the forefront of my mind, I pray for those displaced, those who have lost loved ones, those who are working to recover the missing and restore the city, and for the city of New Orleans itself. God bless them all.