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Saints: Baton Rouge sales no barometer of support

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints do not view ticket sales for
their four games in Baton Rouge this season as a barometer of
Louisiana's ability to support an NFL team for the long term, a top
team official said Monday night.
"I don't believe anybody's looking at this as any kind of
referendum. We've been in Louisiana for 38 years," said Arnold
Fielkow, Saints executive vice president of administration. "We've
got tremendous fans and have had tremendous support from our fan
base. We understand we're in some unusual and difficult times and
all we can ask of our fans is to continue to support us."
The Saints were in Baton Rouge to meet with Louisiana reporters
about their plans for the games they will play in LSU's Tiger
Stadium.
Since tickets for those games went on sale three weeks ago, the
Saints have sold 30,000 tickets for their Oct. 30 matchup against
Miami -- a game with the added allure of Dolphins coach Nick Saban's
return to LSU, where he won a BCS national title.
Although Tiger Stadium holds 92,400 fans, the Saints are listing
a sellout figure of 79,000 because LSU did not want its west upper
deck -- which has been used for LSU games but remains partly under
construction -- opened for NFL games.
The Saints also will be able to sell 70 suites, many of which
already have been bought by LSU suite holders, who were given the
first chance to buy them for Saints games as part of the deal with
the university, Fielkow said. He was not aware of how many suites
remained available for each game.
Before the Louisiana Superdome was heavily damaged by Hurricane
Katrina, the Saints had about 100 suites rented for the season in
New Orleans and were selling more for individual games. The Saints
can sell a maximum of 34 suites per game at the Alamodome in San
Antonio, where the team has played one home game and has two more
scheduled.
Although the Saints have relocated most day-to-day operations to
San Antonio for at least this season, Fielkow said longtime fans in
Louisiana and the Gulf region should not feel snubbed. He stressed
that the Saints were kicked out of their suburban New Orleans
headquarters by federal emergency officials and the military, which
commandeered the facility as an emergency base for their storm
relief efforts.
He added that Baton Rouge was overwhelmed right after the storm
by evacuees who occupied facilities at LSU and left a shortage of
hotel rooms in the region.
"It's a very positive statement that the team is playing a
majority of games in Louisiana. I think that's the right
decision," Fielkow said. "The long term really has not been
discussed. The league obviously is going to have to be involved in
that."
The Saints' other games in Baton Rouge will be against Chicago
on Nov. 6, Tampa Bay on Dec. 4 and Carolina on Dec. 18. The NFL has
not decided whether to enforce television blackout rules for the
Baton Rouge games.
The Saints currently are under contract with the state of
Louisiana to remain in New Orleans through 2010, although the team
could void that contract because of damage to the Superdome, which
is now unavailable for sporting events for at least the rest of
2005 and perhaps longer. Also yet to be seen is whether the state,
ravaged by two major hurricanes since late August, intends to make
its next payment of annual subsidies to the Saints. The payment is
$15 million in July and goes up as high as $23.5 million in the
final years of the deal.
Fielkow was apologetic in declining to discuss the team's future
beyond 2005, noting that he cannot speak for owner Tom Benson or
the NFL on whether the team would stay in San Antonio, return
full-time to Louisiana, or go elsewhere. He added that a number of
complicated legal issues as well as the state's plans for the
Superdome may enter into it.