Tom Benson, who kept Saints and Pelicans in New Orleans, dies at 90

Where does Saints' ownership go from here? (0:49)

Adam Schefter explains what the plan is for the Saints' ownership after Tom Benson died at age 90. (0:49)

Tom Benson, owner of the NFL's New Orleans Saints and NBA's New Orleans Pelicans, died Thursday in New Orleans with his wife at his side, the teams announced. He was 90.

Benson was one of only three owners of both an NFL and NBA franchise at the time of his death. He was widely credited with keeping both teams in his native New Orleans when their futures were in doubt, first when he purchased the Saints in 1985, and then when he purchased the former New Orleans Hornets in 2012.

Benson had been hospitalized since Feb. 16 in New Orleans with flu-like symptoms.

A private funeral mass will held at St. Louis Cathedral on March 23 from 11 a.m. to noon ET. It will be restricted to invited guests because of space restrictions but will be televised locally on WLAE-TV.

Public visitations will be held at Notre Dame Seminary on Wednesday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. ET and Thursday from 7 a.m. - noon ET.

"Tom Benson's contributions to New Orleans and the National Football League were legendary," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

"He purchased a team that had never had a winning season; by the third year of his ownership, the Saints were in the playoffs. Tom kept the Saints together through the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and his decision to bring the team back to New Orleans gave the entire region hope and confidence that they would recover. The Saints rewarded their fans with tremendous football and a Super Bowl championship.

"Within the NFL, he was a true leader among NFL owners. ... I know that the entire NFL family joins me in extending our most heartfelt condolences to Gayle Benson and the entire Saints organization."

Benson underwent triple-bypass heart surgery in April 2001 and remained in good health until 2014, when he underwent two arthroscopic knee procedures and suffered complications that led to a long recovery.

Benson's plan was to turn the franchises over to Gayle, his wife of the past 13 years, after he ousted his daughter and grandchildren as heirs during a bitter legal feud that lasted nearly two years. The dispute ended with a private settlement in February 2017. Gayle Benson has already been approved by the NFL and NBA as the owner of both teams. She is a New Orleans native who is expected to keep both teams in the city long term.

Saints coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees were among many current and former Saints who tweeted their regards for Benson on Thursday, as did Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams, who was born in New Orleans.

"The NBA family mourns the loss of New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "Big-hearted and gracious, Tom topped off a distinguished business and sports career by acquiring the Pelicans in 2012. During his tenure, he hosted two highly-successful All-Star Games, rebranded the franchise and installed a first-class organization. He was a dear friend to me and so many others in the sports world, and the loss of his authentic and unique presence will leave an enormous void.

"We send our heartfelt condolences to Gayle, their family, the Pelicans and Saints, and his countless friends."

Longtime executives Dennis Lauscha and Mickey Loomis are expected to maintain key roles in running the teams. Lauscha is the president of both franchises. Loomis, whose primary role is general manager and executive vice president of the Saints, also serves as an executive vice president for the Pelicans.

Paul Allen (Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers) and Stan Kroenke (Los Angeles Rams and Denver Nuggets) are the owners of NFL and NBA franchises.

Benson, who made his fortune in the automobile and banking industries in New Orleans and San Antonio, was estimated to be worth $2.8 billion in 2017 by Forbes, which ranked him and his family as the richest in Louisiana.

The Saints never had a winning season before Benson took over. Since then, they've made 11 trips to the postseason -- including a Super Bowl championship after the 2009 season -- leading to many of the owner's memorable "Benson Boogie" second-line victory dances on the field.

Benson has also been lauded for his role in helping the NFL grow during his 33 years of ownership. He spent many of those years on the league's finance committee, serving as chairman three times.

His ownership years weren't always rosy. Benson's popularity with the fan base took a major hit in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when he entertained the possibility of moving the team to San Antonio. Though Benson later insisted the reports of him considering relocation were blown out of proportion, he allowed that uncertainty to fester during an emotional time for the community.

However, with the NFL's urging, the Saints returned home in January 2006, and Benson displayed a renewed commitment to his hometown from that point.

The Saints began thriving after Benson hired Payton that year and the team added Brees and running back Reggie Bush, among others. The people of New Orleans rallied that year to sell out the Superdome for the first time, and now there's an annual waiting list of more than 70,000 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (a lucrative naming-rights deal that both Tom and Gayle Benson helped arrange).

"Once he got moving, he didn't stop," former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said of Benson's turnaround. "With Drew Brees and Sean Payton and the team, it went to the NBA team, it went to [ownership of other local businesses]. So it's quite a remarkable story of success."

The Saints' infamous bounty scandal also took place under Benson's watch, with Payton, Loomis and others receiving unprecedented suspensions for allegedly overseeing a pay-for-injury scheme. Benson stuck by his team leaders during a controversial debate over whether the punishments were warranted -- which also helped restore his popularity among the fans.

Benson added an NBA team to his portfolio when he purchased the Hornets in 2012 to prevent out-of-town ownership from swooping in and possibly relocating the team. He renamed the team to the Pelicans, after the state bird and former New Orleans minor league baseball team.

The Pelicans have made only one playoff appearance (2015) during Benson's ownership tenure. However, they are currently thriving as a fifth seed in the Western Conference, led by one of the game's top players, Anthony Davis.

Benson's commitment to New Orleans also spread beyond his teams.

He and Gayle started GMB Racing, which produced two Kentucky Derby entrants in 2016. They also invested in local companies like Dixie Beer and TV and film production companies. And they helped bring the Super Bowl back to New Orleans in February 2013, an economic windfall for the city.

The Bensons were also generous in their charitable efforts throughout New Orleans, the Gulf South region, San Antonio and the Catholic Church community, among others. In 2014, Benson pledged $11 million to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the largest donation by an individual in the Hall's history.

Benson is one of six NFL owners who have died since October 2013, along with Bud Adams (Tennessee Titans), William Clay Ford (Detroit Lions), Ralph Wilson (Buffalo Bills), Malcolm Glazer (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Dan Rooney (Pittsburgh Steelers).

In lieu of flowers, donations to the Ochsner Clinic Foundation, Notre Dame Seminary or St. Louis Cathedral are preferred.