VooDoo owner: Decision to fold not indictment of New Orleans marketplace

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans VooDoo of the Arena Football League plans to cease operations despite being near the top of the league in attendance the past two seasons.

Saints owner Tom Benson, who also owns the VooDoo, said the decision to fold the 5-year-old AFL franchise was "not an indictment of [the New Orleans] marketplace."

Benson told the AFL of his decision on Monday, saying it was based on "circumstances currently affecting the league and the team."

Since last November, the AFL's board of directors has been looking into various ways to improve the league's financial footing. One proposal involves individual franchise owners ceding control of the league to new investors.

"Tom Benson and Rita Benson LeBlanc have been exemplary AFL operators, leaders and partners. The League is saddened to learn of their sudden decision to terminate their ownership of the VooDoo and regrets that they will no longer be part of the AFL family," said a written statement released by the AFL. "VooDoo fans and the New Orleans community will always maintain a special place in the history of the AFL for their support of two sold-out ArenaBowls. The league will examine all possibilities regarding the future of the team. This development will not prevent or delay the AFL from continuing to examine new structure possibilities."

The VooDoo have played four seasons in New Orleans, suspending operations in 2006 because of Hurricane Katrina.

The VooDoo's average attendance last season, measured by tickets distributed, was 14,321, which ranked fifth in the 17-team league.

Because of what the league said was strong support for the sport in New Orleans, the city was awarded the past two ArenaBowls.

"The VooDoo fans have been the best in the AFL," said Rita Benson LeBlanc, who is Benson's granddaughter and also a VooDoo owner. "Their passion, enthusiasm and support made it possible for us to bring two consecutive ArenaBowls to benefit New Orleans. It is a sad day for our community and our organization, but circumstances prevented us from continuing in the AFL."