When a TV blackout of the New Orleans Saints-Dallas Cowboys football game was announced across other parts of Louisiana, the Who Dat Nation released a collective moan. State Sen. Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City, criticized the National Football League, which imposed the blackout, for what he called a failure to recognize Louisiana taxpayers' support for the Saints.
Earlier this year, Saints owner Tom Benson negotiated a deal with the state to keep the team in Louisiana through 2025. Benson also got a new sports development district and a commitment from the state to lease a large portion of his newly acquired Benson Tower office building next to the Superdome. The cost to taxpayers: $280 million over the next 17 years. According to a recent study by the University of New Orleans, the Saints generate $22 million annually in direct state revenue, but that stat — along with a winning season — won't quiet some critics. "Really, it's not like we haven't ponied up," Gautreaux says. "Year after year, and after some less-than-inspiring seasons of Saints football, we, the Louisiana taxpayers, invested multi-million-dollar payments in our team."
Rep. Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, who was able to view the game on local television, says the blackout was a form of "corporate manipulation" that should never happen again. A number of cable systems decided this year not to pay for games and other programming the NFL Network provides, including the Saints-Cowboys game. A similar problem occurs for access to New Orleans Hornets basketball games in St. Tammany Parish, says Pearson, who adds that Act 433, known as the Consumer Choice for Television Act — passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal this year — should have resolved that situation. "This brings to mind another issue we have been unable to resolve with Cox Sports Television (CST) and Charter Communications despite repeated attempts," Pearson says. CST has the exclusive rights to the New Orleans Hornets broadcasts and offers these games to subscribers through its Cox affiliates, but Charter, which has the cable franchise in St. Tammany, doesn't have a deal with Cox to carry the Hornets games. Pearson complained that neither Cox nor Charter is willing to negotiate in the interest of Louisiana's sports fans. "Is it fair when CST monopolizes the market with a publicly funded product?" Pearson asks. "New Orleans Hornets games are not offered to our region, despite thousands of season ticket holders and supporters." Pearson says lawmakers should resolve the issue in next year's legislative session. — Jeremy Alford