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Realities to create long Saints goodbye

It’s debatable the odds of which occurring are worse: Gov. Kathleen Blanco getting herself reelected or the New Orleans Saints sticking around after the team’s subsidy from the state runs out after 2010. Blanco apparently is willing to bite the bullet, despite meaning the state will fork over nearly $90 million to the team, even after she has criticized the deal, and not exercise the state’s option to get out of paying all but $20 million of that after the upcoming season.

Until Hurricane Katrina blew through area and out some levees, the big sticking point in negotiations was infrastructure. Owner Tom Benson has argued facilities disallowed realization of a greater revenue stream for the team, but the state was reluctant to meet his main demand, a new stadium which he argued would allow for more revenue-generating amenities like luxury boxes.

But after the disaster, the dynamic has changed from infrastructure to whether the market has enough capacity to make the team profitable enough not to relocate to greener pastures, or even to be profitable. The cold, hard facts are when the 2006 census estimates come out, the New Orleans-Metairie MSA’s population will fall to about a million, below that of Buffalo’s and Jacksonville’s to make it the second-smallest National Football League market, ahead only of Green Bay – and practically it will be the smallest, since the Packers already play some home games in Milwaukee.

With over a dozen MSAs with larger populations without a team, it’s hard to argue that New Orleans presents the best deal for the Saints – especially without subsidies that pay for Drew Brees’ contract. With all the most updated facilities around, there simply may be no way to keep the time in a market that, if anything, will shrink and is disproportionately poorer in terms of business entertainment dollars than even its size would indicate.

After the team’s magnificent run to the National Football Conference championship game this year, the pressure will intensify for the state to offer incentives for the team to stay. This must be resisted because in the post-disaster environment, both natural and man-made by the ravages of liberal populism, every dollar will count and the state must spend wisely. Enjoy Saints football the next few seasons because, barring radical economic changes (or NFL insistence on their staying put), it’s not likely Louisianans will enjoy their presence much longer.

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