Breaking down Tagliabue comments; Force majeure?; 'S.A. Saints' headline anger
Before kickoff, Tagliabue indicated he will be in attendance at the Saints-Dolphins game at LSU's Tiger Stadium on October 30. Because it doesn't appear that the Superdome will be operable by next season, his intentions are to initiate discussions with Tom Benson and "people at LSU" about the possibility of the Saints playing all their home games in Baton Rouge in 2006.
However, Tagliabue was guarded about a long-term commitment to keeping the Saints in New Orleans. According to this AP article, Tagliabue said, "I haven't gotten beyond worrying about 2005. Obviously, the biggest issues in New Orleans now are...How do they rebuild the city? What's the shape of the city? What kind of businesses do they want there? What kind of a population base do they want there? All of those issues are going to have to be addressed."
Tagliabue further noted in the same AP article that the NFL would like to have some role in rebuilding the city if the above questions were answered satisfactorily. "It would be our intention to have a seat at the table in those discussions, as appropriate," said Tagliabue. "But to start speculation about the future right now when all those questions have to be addressed first is kind of pointless."
Additional information from Tagliabue comes from this San Antonio Express-News story by Mike Finger. In it, the NFL commish expresses his wonder of what kind of city New Orleans will be post-Katrina: "There are a lot of options. Should it be a tourist destination? Should it be a full-fledged industrial city, building on the oil and gas industry or its position as a port at the mouth of the Mississippi? There are so many questions."
Tagilabue's concerns are warranted. He wants to know what the long-term future of the city will hold, so that he and the NFL can determine whether the Saints should stay or go. A closer look at his comments reveals where the lines are drawn:
- "What kind of businesses do they want there?" Corporations that can afford expensive suites and hire a lot of employees to buy tickets and merchandise, or mom-and-pops that can't?
- "What kind of population base do they want there?" A smaller population means a smaller television market, which means lower attendance at games and less ad revenue.
- "How do they rebuild the city?" Will the Superdome be torn down, and if so, will a new stadium be a priority?
- "Should it be a tourist destination?" If so, see Orlando or Las Vegas. No NFL teams there.
- "Should it be a full-fledged industrial city?" This would be beneficial to the NFL, as it would ensure a population with enough of a base to support the Saints.
It's evident from these comments that Tagliabue is laying the groundwork that the NFL wants to remain in New Orleans - if it can. On one side, it indicates a willingness to not abandon the city and its fans. On the other, it could mean the league is providing a foundation to say that while it wanted to return, the business condition of the city post-Katrina simply did not warrant an NFL team to remain.
One final note: Tagliabue is quoted in this article by the Shreveport Times' Glenn Guilbeau, regarding the Saints playing in Baton Rouge this season, as saying, "We wanted to make it 1,000 percent clear that the New Orleans Saints are committed to Louisiana, to New Orleans and their fans."
If the team does stay, it is noted in the above Shreveport Times article that an insurance policy covers the Superdome for up to $600 million. In other words, this new stadium could become a reality - if there are businesses and fans in place to support the team.
So it appears the NFL's good intentions are there. We shall see whether the business landscape will allow the good intentions to come to fruition.
The aforementioned piece by Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times reveals that legal interpretation of the Saints' contract with the state of Louisiana could make things a lot easier for Benson to take the Saints from New Orleans.
The article points out contract language that effectively provides that given the extensive damage sustained by the Superdome, the terms of the contract could be null.
In other words, Benson could take the Saints to wherever he wants without being required to pay an exit clause penalty of $81 million - the total the state has provided to him since the contract was entered into by both parties.
When asked about these terms, Benson seemed to express some exasperation. "You're way ahead of me," he's quoted as saying in the article. "I don't know anything about that or what we're going to do about all of that. I don't want to leave Louisiana, OK? Otherwise, we wouldn't be playing four games here."
However, the same article notes that one LSU official stated Tagliabue "made the Saints play in Tiger Stadium because Benson did not want to."
It appears thus far that the NFL wants the Saints to stay in New Orleans if at all possible, to avoid the very ugly p.r. hit it would take if it removed the team from New Orleans in the near future, while Benson seems to want to get the team out of New Orleans as soon as possible.
'S.A. SAINTS' HEADLINE ANGER
The San Antonio Express-News rightfully received a lot of backlash for running a recent story, noted on my site here (about two-thirds of the way down), with the headline, "S.A. Saints tickets are a big, easy sell."
The paper should receive criticism. The "S.A. Saints" headline was a direct slap in the face to New Orleans, and shrouds the city's generosity to the Big Easy with an air of vulturism.