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Is Tom Benson Owning The Hornets A Good Thing?

An announcement is expected this afternoon to confirm that Tom Benson will purchase the New Orleans Hornets. He will own 100% of the team. Before I examine the good and the bad, let’s get you caught up on how it came to be Tom Benson.

Benson, the current owner of the New Orleans Saints, was a bit of a wildcard in the bidding process. He put in a bid for the Hornets three months ago, only to walk away.

Since January, it appeared that an ownership group consisting of Raj Bhathal ( one of the largest swimwear manufacturers in the U.S.), Larry Benson (Tom’s younger brother), and Mike Dunleavy (former NBA player and coach) were the front runners to purchase the franchise.

Gary Chouest, a former minority owner of the club, was also reportedly in the mix. 

Tom Benson came back into bidding picture this week. Days before the start of a scheduled NBA Board of Governors meeting, Tom Benson spoke to NBA commissioner over the phone about possibly buying the team. This was the same day Bhathal and Chouest were in New York to discuss a possible purchase of the Hornets with Stern.

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

 There is obvious upside to Benson owning the Hornets. For starters, he can bring in more corporate sponsorships, something he has done masterfully with the Saints. For a team like the Hornets in a market the size of New Orleans, corporate sponsorships are imperative to their longterm success. In the NFL, Benson enjoys equal revenue sharing from fat TV contracts. He will have no such luxury in the NBA, as each team negotiates their own TV deal.

Benson owns a television station in NOLA. He knows the business, and that gives him a leg-up in TV negotiations. The lagniappe with local television ownership is even more exposure on a daily basis.

Tom also has a great relationship with local and State government. An owner from another part of the Country would have no such luxury. The Hornets lease with the State of Louisiana is strikingly similar to that of the Saints. Speaking of the State, Hornets fans will not have to worry about this team possibily leaving Louisiana in 2024 when the lease expires.

Lastly, and most importantly, I’m of the opinion that a when professional franchises work together it spreads across a fanbase and creates more unity. Perhaps that sounds cheesy, I know. But, consider the city of Pittsburgh. “Black and yellow, black and yellow, black and yellow.” (If you don’t know the song, don’t worry about it) They live through their sports franchises. Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. Sure, one franchise might have more fans than another, but overall, the entire city and its surrounding area are on board with the hometeam.

The Saints are undoubtedly the number one ticket in Louisiana. No one is going to argue that. However, far too often the Hornets have been pushed aside and discounted by those who don’t want to embrace anything that’s not the black and gold. Some locals have had a hard time embracing the Hornets.

Today, fans are worrying how Benson’s purchase of the Hornets will take his time away from the Saints.

“Why is he worried about the Hornets when Drew Brees isn’t signed yet?” That’s a question you hear from Saints fans that feel absolutely no connection to the Hornets.

Last weekend I was at a hardware store picking up some flowers to plant in my yard (you can make fun of me for that). I was wearing a Hornets shirt. As I was leaving the store, a young employee stopped me and said, “Next time, wear a Lakers shirt.” Needless to say, I didn’t appreciate his comment. Rather than act like a child, I asked him if he was from the West Coast. His response was, “No, I’m from New Orleans.” This kind of rubbish mindset is what drives true Hornets fans nuts. Why don’t many people support the hometeam?

At some point, the franchise missed out on connecting with the fanbase. I truly believe they’ve begun to change that in New Orleans with the “I’m In” campaign. But having an owner like Tom Benson can spread that connection well beyond New Orleans, and into the rest of Saints country. Don’t get me wrong, some fans already do connect with both the Saints and the Hornets. Just not enough.

The immediate connection Benson will bring between the two franchises is priceless in my opinion. Why should fans live through one  local franchise when they can live through two?

 Ultimately, winning will bring in more fans, but it wont’ keep them. A local, personal relationship will keep them.

Are there a few question marks with a Benson owned Hornets team? Sure.

The man is in his 80s. Will he just pour money into the Hornets and sit back? NBA spending is different than NFL spending. No equal revenue sharing and guaranteed player contracts are just two things to consider. Will he also turn the this franchise over to Rita-Benson LeBlanc? If so, how ready will she be to run two professional franchises?

After considering the facts, there is plenty of upside to Benson owning the Hornets. So in the upcoming weeks, when caller after callers asks me if Benson’s purchase is a good thing, my answer will be a resounding “YES!”

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