Tom Benson – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
Team Owner, 1985-2018
New Orleans Saints/New Orleans Pelicans
During a career in business and professional sports that spanned over 70 years, Tom Benson was an endearing figure in his hometown of New Orleans as well as throughout the NBA and the NFL. Mr. Benson served as the Owner of the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and the New Orleans Pelicans from 2012 until his death on March 15, 2018.
Raised in the city’s St. Roch neighborhood, Benson graduated from St. Aloysius High School (Now Brother Martin) in 1944. Following his graduation, he enrolled at Loyola University New Orleans to study business and accounting. He interrupted his education to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1945 and upon the conclusion of World War II, Benson returned home to New Orleans and continued his business administration studies.
In 1948, he went to work as a bookkeeper for the Cathey Chevrolet Co. in New Orleans and quickly proved himself in the automobile industry. By 1962, at age 35, Benson established a multi-dealership organization with outlets throughout the New Orleans area and South Texas.
After learning that the New Orleans Saints were on the verge of being sold to parties interested in relocating the team, Benson, knowing the importance of the NFL franchise to his hometown, purchased the team on May 31, 1985. After limited success in their first 18 seasons of existence, the Saints finally found success under Benson’s guidance – the team finished 12-3 in 1987 and hosted its first playoff contest.
After entrusting Executive Vice-President/General Manager Mickey Loomis to hire Sean Payton as head coach and sign free agent quarterback Drew Brees in 2006, the franchise has posted a 119-85 overall record, capped by the Super Bowl XLIV Championship. Overall, since being purchased by Mr. Benson in 1985, the Saints have earned 11 playoff berths, six division titles and the Super Bowl XLIV title in 2009, building a foundation for continued success on and off the field.
In 2012, Benson purchased the Hornets franchise from the National Basketball Association, which was successfully rebranded as the Pelicans. In addition to the Smoothie King Center undergoing a major renovation since his purchase, the Pelicans have built through a combination of the draft, free agent signings and trades to become a stable and successful organization. This year they reached the playoffs for the second time since his purchase of the club, advancing to the second round.
“Tom Benson has invested his time, money and efforts into this great city for many, many years and because of his efforts and the work of countless others, New Orleans is back and better than ever,” former Gov. Bobby Jindal said in 2014. “He believed in the Saints when not many people did, and his support for the team proved to be a game changer. The success of the Saints and Pelicans is due in large part to Tom’s leadership and management over the years, and his contributions throughout this community represent multiple chapters in Louisiana’s economic success story.”
In addition to the success and the commitment to the community by the Saints and Pelicans, the efforts of ownership have also paid great economic dividends for the city of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. Benson was the driving force behind the city’s successful bids to host five Super Bowls, and through his commitment to the Pelicans and his hometown, NBA All-Star Weekend was awarded to New Orleans in 2014 and 2017.
“Long before becoming the owner of the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012, Tom Benson had proven himself to be a giant in the New Orleans community, working tirelessly to support the people of the Gulf South and Greater New Orleans,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in 2014. “With over three decades of advocacy for projects ranging from cancer research to education, Tom is one of a kind.”
Community involvement and philanthropy were the hallmark of Benson’s career as a local business leader and Owner of the Saints and Pelicans. This was evident through his generous support of local educational institutions, healthcare, faith-based causes, military organizations and numerous local groups that help those in need.
“Mr. Benson was very loyal to his people, and it was easy to be loyal to him because he was great to work for,” longtime Saints’ employee Jay Romig told the Times-Picayune following Mr. Benson’s death. “I loved Mr. Benson. We all did.”