Saints set franchise record for season-ticket sales

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have set a franchise record for season-ticket sales, four months before making their
post-Hurricane Katrina return to the Superdome.

The Saints, who spent last season in San Antonio after Katrina flooded the city and severely damaged the Superdome, have sold
54,969 season tickets, surpassing the previous record of 53,728 set
in August 2003.

Owner Tom Benson said Wednesday that the Saints received "a
spike" in ticket sales after drafting Heisman Trophy winner Reggie
Bush last month, but they were already on a record pace.

"I want to thank the devoted and loyal fans who have shown
tremendous support for the New Orleans Saints," Benson said.
"This is a great day for the Saints and the city of New Orleans
and the state of Louisiana. To sell a record number of tickets four
months before our first game is unbelievable."

The population of New Orleans remains less than half of what it
was before the storm hit Aug. 29.

"It's truly inspirational to see these fans rally around the
team and the city," Benson said. "We knew the fans were there,
but we didn't know whether they would be able to be involved with
buying tickets or not.

"People talk about there only being 100,000 or so back, but a
lot of them are just 30 miles or so up the road and they're back
buying tickets."

The capacity of the repaired Superdome, which is scheduled to reopen Sept. 25 when the Saints play the Atlanta Falcons, will be
65,000, leaving about 10,000 more seats to sell.

The team's return after a season-long absence, hiring new coach Sean Payton, drafting Bush and the signing of free-agent quarterback Drew Brees generated significant enthusiasm among fans.

Despite the increase in season ticket sales, executive vice president of administration Rita Benson LeBlanc said the team has sold 81 of the 137 suites in the Superdome, and Tom Benson said the sale of corporate sponsorships has been disappointing but improving.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has made several visits to the region since the Saints returned in January. On Feb. 14, Tagliabue
and Benson met with a group of 27 area business leaders who pledged
to help sell tickets, suites and sponsorships.

"The commissioner and I have been very disappointed with the
reaction of the business community," Benson said. "But their
support is coming. A lot of businesses are having problems and it's
been very difficult for them to make commitments. We're looking
forward to them doing their part."

New Orleans is nearing a decision on where to hold training camp. The Saints appear to be leaning toward Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., where the team will play one of its "home" preseason games while the Superdome is being repaired. The other will be in Shreveport, La.