New Orleans Saints
NEW ORLEANS Pelicans
Gayle Benson provides leadership for the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans. She succeeds her late husband, Tom Benson, who passed away on March 15, 2018, after serving as Owner of the Saints since 1985 and the Pelicans since 2012. The New Orleans native is an accomplished business professional and philanthropist with strong ties to the local community and is dedicated to contributing to the growth and enhancement of the Gulf South region.
Mr. and Mrs. Benson worked together to build championship-level NFL and NBA organizations, housed in state-of-the-art facilities at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center, Caesars Superdome and Smoothie King Center, while making a positive impact in the community away from the football field and basketball court as well.
With the Saints franchise under the guidance of Mr. and Mrs. Benson, the team has reached new heights since 2006, when they entrusted Executive-Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis to set the direction for the organization, responding by making important coaching hires and continually supplementing and upgrading the roster through the draft, free agency and trades. Since then, the franchise has reached its highest point of success, posting a 168-106 record from 2006-21, featuring ten winning seasons, nine playoff berths, seven division titles, three NFC Championship appearances and the Super Bowl XLIV title. Off-the-field, the Caesars Superdome is in the midst of a multiple-phase enhancement, in addition to periodic renovations at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center to retain its status as one of the most cutting edge practice facilities in the NFL. The Caesars Superdome has been sold out on a season ticket basis for every campaign since 2006, with a waiting list of over 73,000 and 163 consecutive sellouts for contests played at the facility through 2021. The NFL’s League Observation Program and third party Expert Review Audits of all 32 teams resulted in the Saints being ranked with the highest overall score for Fan Gameday Satisfaction from 2017-19. They secured the highest-overall score for Safety and Security, Overall Arrival Communication and Mobile Ticketing in 2020 and finishing among league leaders in 2021, two seasons when the club was quickly challenged to think out of the box with the safety of its fans, staff and players of tantamount importance. The club has also positioned itself as a leader in the community, assisting with the recovery from several natural disasters as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, while also working to enhance the region as a whole.
In Mrs. Benson’s first four seasons of ownership, New Orleans has posted four consecutive winning seasons and three consecutive NFC South division titles (2018-20), reaching the NFC Championship game in the 2018 campaign. No team has matched the Saints’ 26 road victories since 2018. Their 49 wins (regular season and postseason combined) are tied for second in the NFL during the four-season period. 13 Saints have received 28 Pro Bowl selections and eight players over the past three seasons have received Associated Press All-Pro honors.
Following in the footsteps of her late husband, who played a significant role in the city of New Orleans hosting five Super Bowls during his ownership and wielded extensive influence and respect among fellow NFL owners with a 25-year tenure as Chairman of
the Finance Committee, Mrs. Benson has become instrumental with her influence and leadership in important league issues, serving on the Audit, Business Ventures and Hall of Fame Committees and the Social Justice Working Group. She helped the city land Super Bowl LIX to be played in February, 2025, which will mark the 11th time Louisiana and the Crescent City will serve as a host, tying with Miami for the most Super Bowls by a host city. The economic impact of Super Bowl XLVII, played in 2013, which Mr. Benson successfully campaigned for, was $480 million, not to mention the exposure and charitable contributions that the National Football League makes during Super Bowl week that extends for generations. Mrs. Benson is committed to continuing to bring Super Bowls to New Orleans.
Immediately upon Mr. and Mrs. Benson’s purchase of the former Hornets franchise from the NBA in 2012, construction began on a state-of-the-art basketball practice facility to house the entire organization together and the franchise would also be rebranded as the Pelicans. Through agreements with the State of Louisiana upon the purchase of the Pelicans, the Smoothie King Center has undergone a complete renovation since the 2012 purchase, featuring a new center-hung HD scoreboard, which debuted in 2015, along with several additional fan upgrades. Through this commitment, NBA All-Star Weekend was awarded to New Orleans in 2014 and 2017, making the city one of just seven current NBA markets to host the mid-season event at least three times. Active in league affairs, Mrs. Benson, serves as a member of the NBA’s Labor Relations Committee and was named to the NBA Foundation Board of Directors in 2020. As a board member, she is constantly an advocate for the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. Since her 2020 addition, every distribution by the foundation has benefited New Orleans nonprofits.
On the court, she oversaw a significant overhaul of the Pelicans in 2019 when she hired Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin and committed to significant upgrades to the Ochsner Sports Performance Center’s basketball facilities. Through the support of these organizational improvements by Mrs. Benson, combined with the 2019 acquisition/2020 re-signing of forward Brandon Ingram, a 2020 NBA All-Star and winner of the league’s Most Improved Player award, a trade for guard C.J. McCollum and the hiring of Head Coach Willie Green, all of which led to New Orleans’ first playoff berth since 2018, the Pelicans have established a solid foundation.
Community investment and giving back have been hallmarks of Mr. and Mrs. Benson’s ownership of the Saints and Pelicans. This tradition continues under Mrs. Benson’s stewardship, sharing her late husband’s vision and passion for helping others. She has further enriched the New Orleans community through her support to causes in the health and wellness, cancer care, education, arts and faith-based sectors.
As dedicated corporate citizens, the Saints and Pelicans annually put millions of dollars back into the community in financial support, in-kind donations, charitable appearances and donations of goods and services. Mrs. Benson’s philanthropic leadership has been recognized far and wide since becoming Owner.
Mrs. Benson has always quickly responded and taken action to conditions that affect the local community adversely. With the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida providing multiple challenges to the New York area and its citizens since 2020, Mrs. Benson has
donated over $2 million, partnering with the Greater New Orleans Foundation to assist local organizations and individuals in need to help the region and its residents recover from these circumstances. In 2020, utilizing the platform of the Saints and Pelicans to harness the unifying power of sport to advance race relations across both the Gulf South and the country, she formed the Social Justice Leadership Alliance. The alliance, with key front office executives and players from both franchises in leadership positions, advocates for issues of change in minority communities.
In 2014, Mrs. Benson was honored by the New Orleans Council for Community and Justice with its Weiss Award, recognizing achievement for exceptional civic and humanitarian contributions. In 2015, the couple were honored by the regional chapter of the Anti-Defamation League with the A.I. Botnick Torch of Liberty Award. In 2018, she and Mr. Benson (posthumously) were honored by two of the city’s leading higher education institutions. They received a Dermot McGlinchey Lifetime Achievement Award from Tulane University, honoring those who have demonstrated service, volunteer involvement and commitment to Tulane and their hometown communities and were inducted into the University of New Orleans’ Hall of Distinction.
In 2019, Mrs. Benson received several important honors. She was honored by Xavier University of Louisiana with the Sister Maris Stella “Women of Faith” Award and was recognized by the UNCF with the group’s MASKED Award for her support of educational opportunities for all. Mrs. Benson was honored by the Allstate Sugar Bowl Chapter of the National Football Foundation/College Football Hall of Fame with its Distinguished American Award. The National World War II Museum selected her as an American Spirit Medallion recipient. The Greater New Orleans Foundation honored Mrs. Benson with the organization’s Spark Plug Award, given to an individual whose philanthropy in the greater New Orleans community has been exemplary.
In 2021, Mrs. Benson was presented by the University of Holy Cross with its Spes Unica Award. It is the educational institution’s highest honor, based on her support of the university’s mission to educate both the mind and heart. It was announced in May that she was the Times-Picayune’s 2021 Loving Cup award winner, an honor which has been presented since 1901 to men and women who have performed exemplary service to the community without expecting material recognition. In June, Mrs. Benson was recognized by Kingsley House as a co-recipient of the Reverend Beverley Warner Ward, for her extensive work with the non-profit whose mission is to educate children, strengthen families and build community. In October, Mrs. Benson was honored by the American Cancer Society’s Louisiana Chapter with their 2022 Heart & Soul Award for her constant support in the fight against cancer through the services provided to cancer patients, families and caregivers at the Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center on the Ochsner Medical Center Campus.
In addition to serving on the boards of several local educational institutions and the New Orleans Museum of Art, Mrs. Benson also is a member of the Audubon Commission, which oversees the Audubon Nature Institute.
Mrs. Benson has been a longtime trusted and valued member of the local Catholic community, reflecting her deep religious faith. She has worked tirelessly with the
Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Catholic Charities organization and its umbrella agencies that feature almost 50 programs and three affiliated ministries. These organizations deliver health and human services to the poor and vulnerable in the eight Southeast Louisiana parishes which the Archdiocese serves, as well as food and nutrition services throughout the state. Mrs. Benson has worked closely with St. Louis Cathedral’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program. Her support of the Catholic Church has been recognized numerous times. In 2002, she received the Medal of the Order of St. Louis Award for dedication to the Catholic Church. In 2010, she became an Honorary Oblate of Mary Immaculate and in recognition of longstanding support of Catholic education, Mr. and Mrs. Benson received the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award from the National Catholic Educational Association. In 2012, Mr. and Mrs. Benson received from Pope Benedict XVI the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award-for outstanding service to the Church and the Pontiff, the highest Papal award granted to a lay person. She holds a leadership role after being inducted as Dame Commander with Star in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and is a member of the Order of St. Lazarus, a confraternity of Christian faithful who profess their commitment to Jesus Christ.
Mrs. Benson began her professional career in 1968 as a manager for a noted New York-based jeweler. She was responsible for overseeing and managing the daily operation of over 40 sales associates. She then branched out into real estate development, which allowed her to successfully integrate her passion for interior design with property management. Her first real estate transaction occurred in 1978 when she purchased a home in New Orleans’s Irish Channel and then sold the property eight months later after extensive restoration. She would go on to purchase, manage and eventually sell numerous properties, primarily in the city’s Uptown district.
In 1975, Mrs. Benson began a 30-year design industry career, a business where she achieved tremendous success. Throughout the course of her interior design career she was recognized with numerous professional awards and served as an inaugural member on the Louisiana State Board of Licensing for Interior Designers for four years. She directed numerous major design efforts with her clients, including the Caesars Superdome (formerly Louisiana and Mercedes-Benz Superdome), several of the city’s most prestigious hotels, local supermarket chains, automobile dealerships, yachts and many others.
In 2000, Mrs. Benson worked with the Superdome on renovations to the iconic New Orleans landmark’s third and fourth level public spaces, in addition to renovations on select suites. She also owned and developed a commercial real estate building on the corner of Laura and Octavia Streets, a women’s clothing private enterprise called “Toujours la Ligne” and a designer’s showroom called “Designers Resource” which served as a wholesale location for designers and architects seeking to purchase fabric, wall coverings and accessories. The Men of Fashion Committee recognized Mrs. Benson as one of the “Ten Best Dressed Women in New Orleans” in 1983.
In addition to her ownership of the Saints and Pelicans, Mrs. Benson established GMB Racing Stables in 2014 with an initial purchase of seven colts and hiring three veteran trainers, all with Louisiana ties. In 2016, two of the thoroughbreds, Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready participated in the Kentucky Derby. Her Lone Sailor horse ran in the 2018
Kentucky Derby and Preakness. She owns Benson Farm in Paris, Ky, a 1,000-acre farm with nearly 50 horses. As part of her passion for horse racing, she is a member of the Jockey Club of New York. Mrs. Benson also serves as the Owner of four local automotive dealerships (Best Chevrolet, Cadillac of New Orleans, Mercedes-Benz of New Orleans and Mercedes-Benz Van Center), Benson Tower, Benson Capital Partners, Faubourg Brewing Co., Corporate Realty and also owns the Hyatt Regency New Orleans as part of a partnership.
Mrs. Benson was born in New Orleans and grew up in Old Algiers. She began her education in Catholic schools and in 1966 graduated from Martin Behrman High School in Algiers. She received a Doctorate of Letters from Notre Dame Seminary in 2014. Serving as keynote speaker at their respective commencement ceremonies, Mrs. Benson has been awarded honorary degree from University of Holy Cross (2015), Southern University of New Orleans (2021), Delgado Community College (2022) and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Loyola University New Orleans (2019).
Mr. and Mrs. Benson married on October 29, 2004 at the Immaculate Conception Memorial Chapel. Mr. Benson died on March 15, 2018