Tom Benson, owner of NFL American football franchise the New Orleans Saints and NBA basketball outfit the New Orleans Pelicans, has reached a settlement with his estranged heirs in regards to a long-running dispute over ownership rights to the two teams.
In January 2015, Benson (pictured) said that he no longer wanted his daughter Renee Benson to inherit shares of the franchises and sought to remove the ownership stakes of the teams from Renee and her children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc. At the time, Benson said that he intended to leave both teams in the hands of third wife Gayle, whom he married in 2004.
Although Benson fired Renee and both of her children from executive positions with the franchises, the trustees moved to block his efforts to remove ownership stakes, arguing the assets he wanted to swap for the team shares were not equal in value.
Benson’s estranged heirs also challenged whether 89-year-old was mentally competent to change his plans, stating that he was being manipulated by his wife and an inner circle of executives.
Benson and the trustees were able to agree the framework of a settlement that would remove shares from the trust funds set up by Renee for her children, but were unable to agree on the technical details of how the settlement payments would be made and guaranteed.
However, on Friday, Thomas Flanagan, who represents one of the trustees, said he was set to inform the court the parties had reached a confidential agreement that would most likely avoid the need to publish financial information sensitive to both the NFL and NBA as public record in court.
Bobby Rosenthal and Mary Rowe, who oversee the trusts, said in a statement the settlement was a “a winning proposition for the City and people of New Orleans and fans of the Saints and Pelicans everywhere”, adding that the terms of the deal would remain confidential.
“The New Orleans Saints are among the elite, iconic franchises in professional sports, and the Pelicans are making their mark as a highly competitive and successful franchise in its own right, as well as an important part of the fabric of the City of New Orleans,” the statement said, according to the NOLA.com website.
“Keeping these two teams in New Orleans and ensuring their future vitality has always been the highest priority for the family beneficiaries and the trustees. We are optimistic about the future success and prosperity of these two franchises.”
Tom Benson also issued a response to the settlement and said in a statement on the Saints’ official website: “This has been a long and difficult time and we are pleased this is behind us. We have many great projects ahead and look forward to them. In addition, we continue to strive for our number one goal and that is winning championships in football and basketball.”
Phil Wittman who had served as Tom Benson's attorney, added: “This was the final piece of litigation with his heirs. He's glad to have it behind him and looking forward to going forward with his other business deals.”