Saints owner Tom Benson buys the New Orleans Hornets
NBA Commissioner David Stern and Saints owner Tom Benson shake hands after he signed a deal to buy the Hornets. (Ctsy. Saints)
NEW YORK (AP) - Saints owner Tom Benson has bought the New Orleans Hornets from the NBA, the NFL club announced.
The team said on Twitter Friday that it is "thrilled" to confirm "Tom Benson as the new owner of the New Orleans (at)Hornets!"
A person familiar with the deal says the purchase price is $338 million. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the financial terms have not been announced.
The NBA has been trying to sell the Hornets since buying the club from founder George Shinn in December 2010. While preparing the team for sale the league negotiated a new lease for the Hornets to remain in the state-owned New Orleans Arena through 2024.
The sale of the team to Benson has to be approved by the NBA's Board of Governors, which is meeting in New York on Friday.
The framework of ownership negotiations were handled in a way that a new Hornets owner would have to accept the lease worked out between the NBA and Gov. Bobby Jindal. The lease agreement also called for $50 million in improvements to the basketball stadium, which sits right across the street from the Superdome.
Once the NBA approves the sale of the team to Benson, the next step is for the state Legislature to approve the arena lease deal because of the funding needed for stadium improvements. But legislative leaders already have publicly voiced support for the proposed lease deal, which would take effect in July.
The 84-year-old Benson, a New Orleans-native, has owned the Saints since 1985. He helped bring that franchise its first playoff appearance in 1987 and finally a Super Bowl title in 2010. His ownership of the Hornets means the two small-market franchises both will be locally owned and now can work as partners in their efforts to attract corporate sponsorships.
The Hornets moved to New Orleans from Charlotte in 2002, but have often been on shaky ground since, including when the club spent two full seasons in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina devastated large parts of southeast Louisiana in August 2005.
In 2010, former owner George Shinn decided to pull out. He was unable to find a buyer who would commit to keeping the team in New Orleans, so the NBA took the unprecedented step of taking ownership of the team and has been working to find a new permanent local owner for a year-and-a-half.
As part of the effort to attract a new owner, team officials spent the past offseason conducting an unusual campaign to build the club's season-ticket base to 10,000, which the league considers a benchmark for successful franchises. The campaign involved social mixers in the homes of prominent business people in the region.
The team also attracted more major corporate sponsors for the 2011-12 season than it had ever had since moving to the Big Easy.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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