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Saints make payment to ease Superdome tensions

Featured image credit: New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints have made an $11.4m (£8.94m/€10.5m) payment to dampen a dispute with the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) that had threatened to derail the extensive renovations taking place at Caesars Superdome.

In November 2019, the LSED approved the first phase of what was then a $450m renovation of the Superdome, with a construction firm appointed and the first renderings revealed for the project. Work subsequently commenced in phases on the multi-year project in 2020 with completion expected ahead of the start of the new NFL season, ahead of the nearly 50-year-old stadium’s hosting of the Super Bowl on February 9.

The spat between the Saints and the LSED initially emerged on May 22, when the agency stated publicly that the team was late on its payments and suggested it was threatening progress to the venture, which has now risen to a total project estimate of $550m.

The Saints responded by stating it had “no issue” with making the current payment of $11.5m “or for that matter the remaining balance”, claiming instead that frustrations had erupted over the terms of a proposed new lease deal for the Superdome.

The Saints on Friday subsequently published a lengthy Q&A on the matter with president Dennis Lauscha, before it emerged that the financial dispute had ended with the $11.4m payment. Businessman Shane Guidry, a top political advisor to Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry, confirmed that the team had paid, just hours after Landry called Saints owner Gayle Benson to discuss the issue.

Guidry told NOLA.com: “I am certainly glad that they paid. The governor is glad they paid. We want them to stay in New Orleans and be part of the community. But it has to be something that makes sense.”

The Saints believe the goalposts have been moved in ongoing talks over a new long-term lease that would keep the team in the Superdome until at least 2035. Lauscha said the state was trying to potentially reduce some of team’s “concessions and rights,” which allows it to generate revenue from the sale of the likes of food and drinks, suites and seats.

However, the commission and Guidry, on behalf of Landry, said the team’s obligation to pay its share of the renovations was unrelated and should not be used as a bargaining chip. “We cannot have a gun to our head saying ‘we are not going to fund our portion of the renovation unless you give us the 10-year lease that we want,’” said Guidry. “If it was all one contract tied together, fine. It’s not.”

Lauscha on Friday confirmed the original cost estimate of the project was $450m, with the Saints contributing $150m, however he said there have been budget and scope increases leading to the current $550m price tag.

Before the news of the $11.4m payment, he added: “In good faith, the New Orleans Saints agreed in 2021 that we would participate in and incur these additional budget increases. To date, we have paid the LSED $144.7m. Our one-third share is $183m. Our last payment was made on March 28, 2024, days following our March 20 meeting where we thought a consensus had been reached on the terms of a long-term lease. That payment was in the amount of $25.1m.”

In June 2023, the Saints unveiled the latest renovations at the Superdome as part of the five-year project to transform the stadium.