Tom and Gayle Benson give the New Orleans Saints their unwavering commitment to operating a model franchise with championship aspirations on the field, while being a community leader in the Gulf South off the field, through extensive investment and involvement. The 2017 season will mark Tom Benson’s 33rd year of ownership of the franchise, while Gayle Benson serves as the club’s Executive Officer.
Under the supervision and guidance of Mr. and Mrs. Benson, the Saints have reached new heights since 2006. This period, featuring the Super Bowl XLIV title, two NFC Championship appearances, three division championships and five playoff berths, combined with a commitment to rebuild and enhance the Gulf South, has embodied the testament and realization of the principles that Mr. Benson first instilled in the Saints organization when he purchased the franchise in 1985.
When Mr. Benson, who owned numerous automotive and banking interests in both the New Orleans area and South Texas, initially became interested in purchasing the club in 1985, he was motivated by the threat of out-of-town investors planning to move the club from New Orleans. He was certainly a fan of the game and the Saints, but the sport had yet to become one of his passions. As one of the area’s top businessmen, Mr. Benson recognized the importance of the team to the region and immediately spearheaded the effort to keep the Saints. But unlike others at the time, it wasn’t just an emotional plea. He pooled all of his resources, purchased the club in 1985 and preserved the Saints for the team’s legion of fans across the area. The once-rampant speculation that the club was moving immediately ceased.
Not surprisingly, success soon followed as the Saints entered the most compelling and memorable period in franchise history under Mr. Benson’s leadership after having previously not enjoyed a winning record or a playoff berth. In 1986, in one of his first personnel moves as Owner, he hired Jim Finks as president/general manager and Jim Mora as head coach. In 1987, the Saints broke through with a 12-3 record and hosted their first playoff contest. In its first 17 seasons of existence, the Saints won a total of 73 games. Under Benson’s guidance, the franchise exceeded that win total in only eight years by 1992. The Saints reached even greater heights in 2006, when ownership entrusted Executive Vice-President/General Manager Mickey Loomis to hire Sean Payton as head coach and sign free agent quarterback Drew Brees. Since those moves, the franchise has reached its highest point of success, posting a 107-79 overall record over the last 11 years, capped by the Super Bowl XLIV Championship.
The Bensons’ commitment to winning and serving the community is an opportunity to reward the team’s fans, whose support has reached new heights with the Mercedes-Benz Superdome being sold-out on a season ticket basis for every campaign since 2006, with a waiting list of over 73,000 people. By the end of the 2016 season, the consecutive sellout streak had extended to 111 games.
In addition to the on-field success and the commitment to the community by the Saints, the efforts of ownership have also paid great economic dividends for the city of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. Since Mr. Benson first purchased the team in 1985, the city has hosted five Super Bowls, including Super Bowl XLVII. Mr. Benson has been the driving force behind each campaign to secure the contest, including the most recent successful campaign at the annual league meetings in May, 2009. Each Super Bowl has been an economic windfall, the 2013 game in New Orleans totaling $480 million, not to mention the exposure and charitable contributions the NFL makes during Super Bowl week that extends for generations. The Bensons are committed to continuing to bring future Super Bowls to New Orleans.
Highly regarded throughout the NFL, Super Bowl bids are only one of many ways which Mr. and Mrs. Benson influence the sport and the League. Mr. Benson has played a key role among NFL owners in many capacities, including serving three stints as Chairman of the Finance Committee, one of the League’s most difficult, time-consuming and influential positions, with his most recent term ending in 2013. The assignment is evidence of the respect and esteem in which successive NFL commissioners and his fellow owners hold him.
Possessing the desire to give back to the great game of football, in 2014 Mr. and Mrs. Benson pledged two significant gifts totaling $11 million to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. $10 million has been earmarked for the immediate renovation of the Hall’s onsite stadium, which hosts the annual enshrinement Ceremony, the NFL Hall of Fame Game, two high school football teams and two college football teams in Canton, Ohio. In his honor, the facility has been renamed “Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.” The additional one million dollars is the first donation towards the establishment of the Hall of Fame’s Legends Landing program, a mixed-use residence that will include room for Hall of Famers and former NFL Players.
Dedication to the Gulf South are among Mr. and Mrs. Benson’s most rewarding endeavors. Since 2005, the Saints have positioned themselves as a leader in the recovery of the region in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Immediately after the storm, they established the Saints Hurricane Katrina Fund, which raised over one million dollars to benefit worthy causes that helped in the region’s recovery. The club was among the first major businesses to return to New Orleans, and in 2006 had a thrilling season where they reached the NFC Championship Game for the first time, becoming an inspiration for a region on the mend. In 2010, the club established the Saints Gulf Coast Renewal Fund, which raised over $1.5 million through the raffle of a Super Bowl ring and the 2012 raffle of Saints and Pelicans game day experiences. Over one million dollars has been distributed to charities, such as the local chapters of the Second Harvest Food Bank and Catholic Charities to help provide support of those affected by subsequent natural and manmade disasters, including the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Hurricane Isaac and flooding throughout the State in 2016. The efforts of the organization have continued to lift the community, with the team serving as an economic engine and a pacesetter in philanthropic contributions. In 2008, Mr. Benson was selected by the Volunteers of America as the winner of its annual Good Samaritan Award in Philanthropy in recognition of his work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In 2015, he was honored by New Orleans City Business as one of the region’s 35 “Driving Forces” for his contributions to the community since Hurricane Katrina.
Under the guidance of Mr. and Mrs. Benson, the Saints are a focal point for healing and restoration—annually putting millions in charitable contributions, goods and services back into the entire Gulf South. Their commitment to the region is firm and lasting, with the focus on building a stronger and more unified city. It’s a direction that continues to evolve and expand.
The Bensons have helped stimulate the development of the city’s Central Business District, directly adjoining the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, starting with the 2009 purchase of the formerly vacant and blighted Dominion Tower and the unoccupied New Orleans Centre. The two important commercial spaces, which were vacant since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, have returned that region of the CBD into a more vibrant and viable sector of New Orleans and revitalized an area that was largely ignored for four years following Hurricane Katrina. The newly renovated Benson Tower has served as a boon to this important business corridor, while “Champions Square”, which made its debut in 2010 adjacent to the former mall, is continually being developed and enhanced with the ultimate objective of producing a world-class sports and entertainment destination. This economic investment plan, which included 2009 agreements on both a private and public level, has revitalized the Mercedes-Benz Superdome area, and the agreement with the state included a dramatic modernization of the stadium which was completed in 2011. Following the debut of the renovations, the Saints, under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Benson and Mercedes-Benz USA reached a ten-year agreement to rename the facility the “Mercedes-Benz Superdome.” The stadium upgrades and rebranding include a legion of new enhancements that have significantly improved the fan experience for all events at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and kept the building competitive with new facilities across the country, allowing it to continue to host elite events including Super Bowl XLVII, the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship and the upcoming 2022 Final Four and the College Football Playoff semifinals and championship game. Recognizing the need for the stadium to be consistently upgraded, Mr. and Mrs. Benson have most recently collaborated on a multi-million dollar enhancement project for which they contributed $25 million, resulting in significant technology-related enhancements to improve the fan experience, headlined by the addition of two state-of-the-art LED video boards that debuted in August, 2016.
Originally constructed in 1996, Mr. and Mrs. Benson are committed to keeping the club’s world-class practice facility among the NFL’s elite. In 2003, an indoor practice facility and cafeteria were constructed, along with significant upgrades to the team’s locker room, training room and weight room. A significant expansion in 2012 and the construction of a fully remodeled locker room in 2017 assure that the facility remains at the top level of the league.
Away from the playing field, Mr. and Mrs. Benson continue to work tirelessly to ensure that the Saints’ value reaches the entire Gulf South, whether it’s through economic investments that enrich the charitable contributions or groundbreaking community efforts. In addition to reaching out by supporting charities, they also recognize that the future of the area’s economy depends on keeping major businesses and employers in the Gulf South locally-owned. Several large investments in the city’s future by the Bensons have encouraged a number of other businesses to follow their example and continue to build the local economy.
In 2012 Mr. Benson purchased the NBA Hornets franchise, which was successfully rebranded as the Pelicans. The objectives in Mr. and Mrs. Benson’s ownership of the basketball team are the same as their stewardship of the Saints: to produce a team on-the-court that will compete for championships every year, while making a significant positive impact off-the-court in the community. Upon the ownership transfer, state-of-the-art basketball practice facilities were constructed adjacent to the Saints practice fields. In addition through expansion of the administrative facilities for both teams, the entire Pelicans organization was housed together for the first time in the franchise’s history. Through agreements with the state of Louisiana upon the purchase of the Pelicans, the Smoothie King Center has undergone nearly a complete renovation since the 2012 purchase. In addition with the April agreement with the state to enhance both the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Smoothie King Center, the Pelicans’ home debuted a new center-hung HD video scoreboard in 2015, highlighting several fan upgrades.
In 2014, Mrs. Benson established GMB Racing Stables in 2014 with an initial purchase of seven colts and hiring three veteran trainers, all with Louisiana ties. In 2016, two of the thoroughbreds, Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready participated in the Kentucky Derby.
This past April, Mr. Benson, a longtime veteran in the automotive dealership industry, purchased Cadillac of New Orleans to add to his roster of local dealerships, which also include Best Chevrolet and Mercedes-Benz of New Orleans.
In 2008 when Mr. Benson purchased WVUE FOX 8, the station became the only network-affiliated television station in the New Orleans market that wholly locally owned. Following an agreement to sell a majority interest of the station to Raycom in 2017, Mr. Benson leaves the station in much better shape than when he assumed ownership. Since his purchase of the station, which was followed by significant investment in facilities and on-air talent, FOX 8 has received numerous honors for their programming and investigative reporting, including a George Foster Peabody Award, two Dupont Awards and eight national Edward R. Murrow Awards. 2016 and 2017 have marked new highs for FOX 8, with the station capturing the late night news (9 p.m. and 10 p.m.) Nielsen ratings during the crucial May, 2016 sweeps period. In February, 2017, WVUE’s morning show captured more viewers than any other newscast in New Orleans. The station was honored with 11 Regional Murrow Awards, including the prestigious Overall Excellence Award, qualifying them to compete national Murrow Awards in the 11 categories.
Since purchasing the Saints, Mr. Benson’s significant contributions in the sports, business and charitable arenas have been recognized by several honors. His accomplishments have been recognized through his induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame (2014), the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame (New Orleans Chapter-2013), the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame (2012), the San Antonio Business Hall of Fame (2011), the Texas Business Hall of Fame (2007) and in 2017 receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Louisiana chapter of the Association For Corporate Growth.
Community involvement and giving back are hallmarks of Mr. and Mrs. Benson’s ownership of the Saints. The couple has made a positive impact in the community both personally and through both professional sports teams in the areas of the arts, education, faith-based causes, healthcare and military, as well as other deserving causes. Most recently in 2014, Mr. and Mrs. Benson were recognized for their philanthropy by the Anti-Defamation League with the A.I. Botnick Torch of Liberty Award. Mrs. Benson was also recognized by the Girl Scouts of Louisiana East as a Woman of Distinction for her leadership and service to others.
An accomplished business professional who enjoyed a successful 30-year career in the design industry and real estate development, Mrs. Benson has utilized her passion for design to support the arts in New Orleans. Raised in Old Algiers, she directed numerous major design efforts with her clients, including the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, several of the city’s most prestigious hotels and local supermarket chains and automobile dealerships. Mrs. Benson was involved in the NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art) project “Art for Art’s Sake” and is a member of the museum’s advisory board. Most recently, she served as one of the chairs for NOMA’s Odyssey Ball in 2014, which raised over $700,000—the most in the gala’s history. The funds help ensure the museum’s ability to present world-class exhibitions, public programs and educational initiatives.
Both products of local schools, Mr. and Mrs. Benson are committed to supporting the area’s educational institutions. In recognition of their longstanding support of Catholic education, the couple received the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award from the National Catholic Educational Association in 2010. In 2012, they established the Brother Nicholas, S.C. Building Endowment to support Brother Martin High School (formerly St. Aloysius, from where he graduated). In 1986, his alma mater honored Mr. Benson as their Alumnus of the Year. With Mr. Benson having been educated at Loyola University New Orleans, he and his wife made a pledge for the construction of a new Jesuit Center in 2010, contributed to the creation of the Jesuit Social Research Institute in 2008 and he helped fund the first phase of construction of a chemistry wing in 1999. In 2010, Mr. Benson was honored by Loyola University with the school’s Integritas Vitae Award, the New Orleans school’s highest honor. The award is annually presented to an individual who exemplifies the qualities Loyola seeks to instill in its students. The Bensons have also supported numerous local schools with gifts, including St. Mary’s Dominican High School, Jesuit High School and Tulane University. In supporting Tulane’s construction of an on-campus stadium, the Green Wave started playing on “Benson Field” in 2014. The Bensons are members of the Paul Tulane Society, recognizing their significant generosity to the school. Mrs. Benson serves on the Board of Directors for Tulane, the University of Incarnate Word and Archbishop Hannan and Dominican High Schools.
Mr. and Mrs. Benson have also made several significant gifts to higher education in San Antonio, Texas. They funded the building of a football stadium located on the University of Incarnate Word Campus, known as Gayle and Tom Benson Field and Benson Fieldhouse, which also services the school’s teams. The football squad took to the field for the first time in 2009 and continues to grow and build their foundation with the Bensons’ unwavering support. Mr. Benson was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013. In addition, Mr. and Mrs. Benson also established an endowment fund at Central Catholic High School in San Antonio that is dedicated to the memory of the late Robert Carter Benson, who graduated from the school in 1962, and donated the school’s “Benson Memorial Library.”
Longtime advocates of faith-based causes and spirituality, Mr. and Mrs. Benson have been longtime trusted and valued members of the local Catholic community. Mrs. Benson has served on Archbishop’s Community Appeal campaigns for four different Archbishops over the course of the past 20 years and has also worked tirelessly with the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Catholic Charities organization and its umbrella agencies. Mrs. Benson has worked closely with Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults programs at both St. Louis Cathedral and Holy Name of Jesus Parish. She serves as a proud member of the Board of Trustees for the Oblate School of Theology, as well as on Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and is a noted friend of the St. Louis Cathedral Board, also working closely with the Missionary Oblates Partnership and the Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation Planned Giving Advisory Committee. Mrs. Benson is currently an active member of the “I Will Give You Shepherds” campaign, which plans to renovate the second floor of the historic Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.
The support of the Catholic Church by the Bensons has been recognized on numerous occasions. For his humanitarian and philanthropic endeavors that have positively affected the lives of so many individuals and groups, Mr. Benson was honored in 2012 by the Catholic Church with an Oblate Doctor of Humane Letters (to a person who has achieved the human purpose for which Divine Providence Placed Him on Earth) certificate that honors his “realities of the most noble of human endeavors, weighted by criteria arising from the deepest human values.” The certificate also honors “excellence in the area of life where excellence makes the most difference,” and further cites his “attributes and accomplishments that come closest to what God would be interested in honoring.” In 2012, Mr. and Mrs. Benson received from Pope Benedict XVI the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award—for outstanding service to the Church and the Pontiff, the highest Papal award granted to a lay person. Mrs. Benson has received the Medal of the Order of St. Louis Award for her dedication to the Church.
Mr. and Mrs. Benson have also shown their commitment to the health and wellness of the local community with the Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center on the main campus of Ochsner Medical Center. The center was built and has since been upgraded following multiple gifts to the area’s leading health service network of hospitals and clinics. In addition to serving on the Ochsner board, Mrs. Benson has led 100-plus volunteer committee members in hosting the Moonlight and Miracles event four consecutive times—the organization’s annual gala to benefit the Ochsner Cancer Institute. The event has raised over one million dollars annually to benefit cancer patients in the region.
Supporting the efforts of former Saints safety Steve Gleason and his Team Gleason organization which helps provide people with ALS and other debilitating conditions and environment where they can live vital and productive lives with meaningful freedom and independence, Mr. and Mrs. Benson donated five million dollars in 2014 to the Team Gleason House for Innovative Living at the New Orleans St. Margaret’s facility.
In 1945, Mr. Benson served in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. South Dakota and has remained particularly close to this branch of the armed forces. He is the only enlisted man to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Pensacola Naval Museum and has been honored with an award from the crew of the submarine U.S.S. Louisiana. In 2007, Mr. Benson was honored by the U.S. Navy Memorial with the Lone Sailor Award, presented to those who exemplify the core values of honor, courage and commitment. In 2009, Benson was presented with the U.S. Army’s “Army Strong” Award in recognition for his position in the community while demonstrating leadership and Army Values on a daily basis. A leading advocate for the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., Mr. Benson was also a major contributor and past director of The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, with his pledges helping fund the Pacific Exhibit Grand Opening and the Midway Theater. In 2011, he was among five NFL owners honored with an American Spirit Award by the museum for service in the war.
Benson Community Service
Tom Benson’s greatest impact over the last 27 years has been in the community, and the club’s charitable involvement has been among his most rewarding endeavors personally since 1985. He realized immediately the Saints could be more than just a football team to the region, and that the club’s players, coaches and staff were pacesetters when it came to volunteerism, involvement, donations and charitable outreach, and knows the Pelicans have the same opportunities and responsibilities in the community. As a corporate citizen, the Saints annually put millions of dollars back into the community in financial support, in-kind donations, charitable appearances and the donation of goods and services – not to mention the club’s critical role in economic impact and development.
Benson and the Saints have been honored repeatedly during his years as Owner for the support and care of charitable and civic causes, including the Volunteers of America selecting him as the winner of the annual Good Samaritan Award in Philanthropy in 2008. In 2010, Benson was awarded Loyola University of New Orleans’ highest honor as the recipient of the Integritas Vitae Award, given to an individual who exemplifies a commitment to community service.
Mr. Benson and his family have helped raise over $2.5 million for community causes through the Saints Hurricane Katrina and Gulf Coast Renewal funds. Annually, the club has also partnered with local youth-oriented charities such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, Special Olympics, Boy and Girl Scouts of America and the United Way to reach as many children as possible. Over 45 foundations and agencies receive monetary donations from the Saints each year – organizations as diverse as Make-A-Wish Foundation, the American Heart Association, the United Negro College Fund, Habitat For Humanity, the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
In addition to consistently supporting charities, Mr. Benson has also been a leading advocate for New Orleans and the Gulf South. He lends his support in attracting new events to the city, and the club has worked in conjunction with the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation and other local entities to bid and receive the 2012 NCAA Men’s Final Four Basketball Championship and the upcoming 2013 Women’s Final Four. Upon the announcement of his purchase of the New Orleans Hornets in the spring of 2012, the city was awarded the 2014 NBA All-Star Game.
New Orleans’ leading advocate of the successful bid to host the upcoming Super Bowl XLVII, Benson remains committed to work on behalf of the city to land future Super Bowls, because of the financial impact and positive global exposure they are able to shed on the city and the state.