Super Bowl win will put Tom Benson in elite group of American billionaires

By Laurie Bennett

February 9, 2010 at 8:53am

In the city of celebration, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson may have the most to celebrate.

Benson, who built a fortune in banking and car sales, has been living at the fringe of billionaire-hood for years.

Sunday’s Super Bowl win will likely push him over the top, Forbes reports.

The championship translates into more revenue from merchandise sales and sponsorships. Stadium renovations also will bring in more fans and high-priced, high-profit boxes.

Benson, 82, bought the Saints from John Mecom Jr. in 1985 for $70 million. Last year, Forbes estimated the team’s value at $820 million.

His rising fortunes also lift a city still fighting its way back from the decimation of Katrina. But the two-way relationship wasn’t always a sure thing.

Despite Benson’s deep roots in New Orleans (his granduncle was a founder of the Sugar Bowl), many feared he would move the team in the aftermath of the hurricane. He temporarily relocated the Saints to San Antonio, TX, and talked about making the move permanent.

As Pete Prisco of CBS Sports writes, “The New Orleans Saints came as close as powdered sugar on a beignet to becoming the San Antonio Saints.”

The league pressured Benson to stay in New Orleans. Benson’s granddaughter, Rita Benson LeBlanc, executive vice president of the team, played an important role in mollifying him, restoring the family’s public image and getting assurances about Superdome improvements. (A deal between the Saints and the state, finally announced in 2009, calls for $85 million in renovations.)

The Saints returned to New Orleans.

“Five years ago, the owner of the New Orleans Saints was possibly the most hated man in the NFL,” Elizabeth Merrill of ESPN wrote. “Now his team is in the Super Bowl, and the Benson name is solid as oak.”

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