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Focus turns to stadium naming rights

NEW ORLEANS -- Three days after the New Orleans Saints and
the state came up with an agreement, team officials told business
and political leaders they must sell tickets for it to work.

"We've got 270,000 tickets for the whole season, if you really
want to quantify it, left for sale," Arnold Fielkow, director of
administration for the Saints, said Wednesday. "We're going to
engage the business community. We're going to create a formal
process. We're going to go out to every business in this region and
emphasize that for this to be successful we need their help."

Gov. Mike Foster and Saints owner Tom Benson agreed Monday to
the broad outline of a plan aimed at keeping the NFL franchise in
New Orleans. The deal's financial inducements are designed to keep
the Saints in the Superdome through the 2003 season, but let the
team out of its lease two years ahead of schedule -- at an increased
penalty -- if things can't be worked out for a new stadium or an
overhauled Dome.

The deal would guarantee the Saints $12.5 million a year in
increased revenue.

State officials also hope to sell naming rights to the Superdome
before the NFL season begins, hoping to produce at least $3
million.

Wednesday six business leaders from Orleans and Jefferson
parishes were invited to the Saints facility to discuss the need
for ticket sales.

The Saints have sold just under 41,000 season tickets for this
season. The last couple of years the Superdome has been considered
sold out at 65,900. This year the sellout may be 70,000, including
500 seats in the upper levels, Fielkow said.

"We brought it down because the Saints preferred not to sell,
and quite frankly our fans probably preferred, that we not sell
some of the seats," Fielkow said.

Of the approximately 25,000 unsold tickets per game, Fielkow
said well over 80 percent are in the upper level, or terrace.
Benson has cited those seats as one of the main reasons he needs a
new stadium, calling them virtually unsellable.

"I think they're sellable," said Bill Hines, chairman of
Metrovision, the economic development arm of the Regional Chamber
of Commerce. "They sold in the heyday of Jim Mora."

The Saints did not sell out many games during Mora's last years
or while Mike Ditka was coaching, all losing seasons. Last year,
when New Orleans won the NFC West, all but one game was sold out. A
number of the sellouts were last minute deals when businesses and
even players and coach Jim Haslett stepped in and bought blocks of
tickets.

Business leaders at Wednesday's meeting said they believed games
would be sold out this year.

"The community needs to support the Saints for any kind of
arena," said Donald "Boysie" Bollinger, president of Bollinger
Shipyards. "If it's a new stadium, the Superdome, whatever, if the
people don't go to the games it won't be a successful franchise."

The Saints have also sold 10 of the 16 unsold suites. The six
remaining are on the third level and cost between $60,000 and
$65,000 a year plus tickets. In all, the Saints have 137 suites in
the Superdome.

Wednesday afternoon the New Orleans legislative delegation and
the governor's chief of staff, Steve Perry, met with Benson. Perry
said it was just a chance for lawmakers, many of whom had never met
Benson, to get to know him.

"The Legislature is being asked to do a number of things for
the Saints," Perry said. "They just want to make sure Mr.
Benson's committed to the area."