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Tagliabue optimistic of Saints' future

NEW ORLEANS (Feb. 14, 2006) -- NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue continues to be optimistic about the future of the Saints in New Orleans.

Tagliabue spoke to a group of New Orleans business leaders who have committed to helping support the Saints by purchasing suites, tickets and sponsorships. It was the commissioner's third visit to New Orleans and fifth to Louisiana since the Saints were displaced to San Antonio for the 2005 season by Hurricane Katrina.

"The dream of coming back is becoming a reality," Tagliabue said. "A lot of the uncertainty about the future has been cleared up. A lot of people are no longer cursing the darkness and have started lighting candles and doing positive things.

"There has been real positive support from the leadership in the business community. The Saints can be a magnet for other people and businesses to return to the community and be part of the recovery."

The NFL has provided a $20 million grant to help speed up repairs to the Superdome, which is scheduled to reopen for New Orleans' home opener Sept. 24 against Atlanta.

Tagliabue said he received a positive report about progress in the repair work.

"We're facing extraordinary challenges," Tagliabue said. "But out of extraordinary challenges come extraordinary opportunities and out of extraordinary opportunities come extraordinary achievements."

Tagliabue is scheduled to be in Mississippi to meet with Gov. Haley Barbour and business leaders from that state.

"We're not going to sit back and wait for the city to recover," said Saints owner Tom Benson, who was also part of the meeting. "We plan to be leaders in the rebuilding of the city. Today the NFL is ready to help us in this market and the Gulf South more than ever."

Benson and Tagliabue emphasized the need for the Saints to be supported regionally. New Orleans' population remains about half of the 400,000 it was prior to Katrina.

"I've told them we need to have the team be as viable as it can be and sustain it for the long term without the appropriate subsidies," Tagliabue said.

He added that he would like the Saints to have a "better business model" than the current one, which calls for the state to give the team $186 million in subsidies over a 10-year period. That agreement expires after the 2010 season, though the Saints could buy their way out after the 2006 season by repaying the $81 million it has received.

The Saints are offering 25,000 seats for less than $35 per ticket, including some $14 tickets. They're asking for five-year commitments from suite-holders and sponsors, which would run the duration of the lease.

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