New estimate of Saints' value puts Tom Benson's net worth above $2.7 billion
By Kathy Finn
When editors at Forbes.com on Thursday publicized their annual valuation estimates of National Football League teams and pegged the New Orleans Saints at $1.75 billion, they didn't do Tom Benson any favors.
The Forbes estimate indicates that the Saints' value rose a hefty 16 percent over the figure published a year ago. But at a time when Benson, the team's owner, is trying to settle an estate fight with his family, the last thing he needs is to have a national business publisher suggest that his net worth may have jumped $230 million during the past year.
Forbes put the Saints 2016 revenue at $358 million and operating income at $77 million, up 11 percent and 10 percent, respectively, from last year.
The total value of Benson's estate may now top $2.7 billion, including his National Basketball Association team the New Orleans Pelicans, and other holdings that include automobile dealerships, a Texas bank and considerable residential and commercial property in Texas and Louisiana.
The Pelicans' value is about $650 million, according to January 2016 estimate by Forbes.
Benson in 2015 sued the stewards of several trusts he had previously set up to benefit his daughter and two of his grandchildren, in an effort to remove from the trusts ownership shares in the Saints and his National basketball Association team the New Orleans Pelicans.
The team interests held by the heirs consist wholly of non-voting units, while Benson retained all controlling shares. But he hopes to remove the family members from ownership in the teams so that he can leave the Saints and Pelicans entirely to his third wife, Gayle, when he dies.
Terms of the trusts allow him to remove assets as long as he replaces them with other assets of equivalent value. Much of the legal action has amounted to a battle between business valuation experts hired by each side.
In mid-June, days before the matter was slated to go to trial, the parties said they had reached a tentative agreement, thus averting a public court room showdown. But they have not been able to conclude a final settlement, and U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo has put the case back on her calendar, setting it for trial in February.
Milazzo also permitted Benson to amend his complaint, which he recently did in a filing that reveals a few details about asset trades that occurred among the parties during the past seven months.
Benson's amended complaint says that in resolving a related estate suit that was filed in a Texas probate court by his daughter Renee, his five car dealerships in San Antonio and New Orleans were divided up. Benson now is the sole owner of Best Chevrolet and Mercedes-Benz of New Orleans, located in Kenner.
Renee Benson, meanwhile, through a trust set up for her in her mother's name, owns all shares of the Chevrolet, Honda and Mercedes-Benz dealerships previously owned by Tom Benson in San Antonio.
The matter of the trust assets is the final unresolved case among three suits filed after Benson's relationships with his daughter Renee Benson and her two adult children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc, blew up in late 2014.
In a letter he shared publicly, Benson told his heirs that he wanted nothing further to do with them because of their ill treatment of his wife, and he banished them from any involvement with his businesses, including the automobile dealerships on which he had initially built his wealth. He later prevailed in a case the heirs brought against him seeking to have him declared mentally unfit to handle his affairs.
Benson's amended complaint indicates that neither the NFL nor the NBA has yet signed off on any proposed changes in ownership of the sports teams. His filing asks the court to order the trustees of his heirs' trusts to join with him in seeking the necessary approvals from both leagues in order to allow him to reclaim all the team shares.
Kathy Finn is the author of a new biography, "Tom Benson: A Billionaire's Journey" (Pelican Publishing Co.), due for release in October.
Kathy Finn • Author, Tom Benson: A Billionaire's Journey • New Orleans •Contact