Sid Hartman: Louisiana found way to keep NFL team

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 18, 2011 - 12:16 AM
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A Saints fan held up a replica of the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the Superdome before the 2010 season opener vs. the Vikings. Threats of relocation dogged the Saints for years, but now they are secure to stay in New Orleans through 2025.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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With all the talk of the possibility that the Vikings could leave Minnesota if they don't find a way to get a new stadium, it's important to recall what a struggle the state of Louisiana went through and all the concessions it made financially to keep the Saints over the past decade, when there were several instances when the team was ready to leave.

This Legislature could take some lessons from its counterpart in Louisiana, which found a way to keep its team. The New Orleans story is only one example of what some communities go through to keep a pro football team, and believe me, Minnesota could be in the same predicament if a stadium isn't built.

The presence of the Saints here Sunday to face the Vikings recalls how in 2001 the state of Louisiana, in danger of losing the NFL franchise, agreed to pay the Saints $186.5 million over a 10-year period to remain in the state.

Hurricane Katrina displaced the Saints to San Antonio in 2005, and owner Tom Benson expressed interest in staying there for 2006. It wasn't until the very end of 2005 that the Saints committed to returning to the Superdome the next year.

The Saints' original lease extension ran through 2018, but when the 10-year subsidies ended following the 2010 season, the team still had the right to leave by paying a $15 million penalty. So to further assure the Saints stayed in town, a new 15-year lease extension was reached in May 2009.

Under this agreement, the state agreed to a $336 million renovation of the Superdome, and in place of the annual subsidy the state was paying the Saints -- which reached $23.5 million in the final year of the deal -- the team is now paid a subsidy based only on stadium revenues, with a $6 million cap per year.

However, to make up for the cut in those subsidies, the state now leases 320,000 square feet of office space from the Benson family. The Bensons purchased the New Orleans Centre mall and a nearby parking garage from the state, and now they lease that space back to the Superdome Commission for $2.3 million a year. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the state then keeps earnings from the property up to $2.3 million; any additional revenue is split between the Bensons and Louisiana.

What also helped keep the team in New Orleans was that it became a winner once Sean Payton and Drew Brees came on board in 2006 after Katrina. As a result, the franchise is now selling out and on solid ground.

But New Orleans came very close to losing that franchise, and it would have had the state of Louisiana not done the things it did to keep the team.

Williams makes comeback

One of the positive things about the Vikings' dismal season has been the recent return to form of Kevin Williams and the great season that Jared Allen is having.

"It took a little while, and it always does when you don't have training camp, you don't have minicamp, but [Williams] worked hard and he's doing well now," defensive line coach Karl Dunbar said. "He is playing great, he's had three sacks in [three of the past four games], that's great. I think he was kind of off because he had to miss those first two weeks of the season, but he's got his body into football shape and he's playing some great ball."

Williams had to miss the Vikings' first two games because of an NFL suspension from the StarCaps case that had been dragging along through the courts for years.

Speaking of Allen, Dunbar described the defensive end as "the smartest player" he has been around.

"I think he has a knack for getting the quarterback," Dunbar said of Allen. "He doesn't have the Adonis body, when you look at the body types of these guys these days, but he's a smart football player and he knows how to play. ... The combination of him and Kevin on the field together, they do a great job."

Dunbar also had a good word about Brian Robison, who has six sacks to date, and for third-round draft choice Christian Ballard, who started the past two games at defensive tackle. "Yes sir, 6-5, 295, he can run, he can play inside, he can play outside. I think we got a steal when we got him," Dunbar said of Ballard.

Future Gophers schedule

UNLV, the Gophers' opening football opponent next fall, finished 2-10 this season, and the final loss was a 56-9 thrashing by Texas Christian, which is coached by Gary Patterson, a close friend of the Gophers' Jerry Kill. That means Kill should be able to get good information on his opening opponent in 2012. The Gophers will play that game in Las Vegas.

New Hampshire, the Gophers' second foe and first home game, is a Football Championship Subdivision team that finished 8-4 and lost 26-25 at Montana State in the second round of the playoffs. The nonconference schedule finishes with home games against Western Michigan, which went 7-5 this season and plays Purdue in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit on Dec. 27, and Syracuse, which went 5-7 this year and eventually will leave the Big East for the ACC.

Jottings

• Friends of Michael Cuddyer believed he had contributed as much to the Twins success during his eight years on the team as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau did, and that he should be paid accordingly -- not the $23 million per year Mauer is getting or the $15 million Morneau earns, but a lot more than three years at $24 million, which he was offered. So he signed with Colorado for three years at $30 million.

The Vikings are 12-2 at home against the Saints, with New Orleans' victories coming in 1985 (30-23) and 1993 (17-14). And while the 2009 Saints victory in New Orleans kept the Vikings out of the Super Bowl, the 1987 Vikings eliminated the Saints in the wild card round of the playoffs in the Superdome before going on to lose to the Redskins in the NFC title game.

Besides the regular home and road games with division opponents, the Vikings' 2012 schedule doesn't look that tough: home games vs. Arizona, San Francisco, Jacksonville and Tennessee, road games at St. Louis, Seattle, Houston and Indianapolis, plus they will face the fourth-place team from the NFC South at home (Carolina or Tampa Bay) and a road-game vs. the fourth-place team in the NFC East (Philadelphia or Washington).

Former Gophers guard Devoe Joseph made his debut for Oregon on Dec. 10 after sitting out more than a year as a transfer. In two games, he has averaged 15.5 points and 5.0 assists while shooting 9-for-19 from the floor.

Former Twins ace Johan Santana remains uncertain to return to the Mets rotation by Opening Day, according to the New York Post. The story quoted General Manager Sandy Alderson saying Santana's recovery still remains a question mark some 15 months after shoulder surgery. The Mets owe the two-time Cy Young Award winner $49.5 million over the next two years.

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