Saints co-Owner & Exec VP RITA BENSON LEBLANC was "nowhere to be found throughout the festivities" that followed the sale of the Hornets last week to her grandfather, Saints Owner TOM BENSON, and sources said that LeBlanc is "serving some form of unofficial paid administrative leave" imposed by Benson, according to a front-page piece by Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. As the exec "in charge of the club's sales, marketing and community affairs, LeBlanc's absence at major business events has raised eyebrows around town and in the pro sports industry." Word of her absence "has spread in local business circles and reached Baton Rouge, where it's been the topic of discussion among state legislators." Sources said that Benson "reached a breaking point near the end of the 2011 season and felt it was necessary to deliver a wake-up call to his 35-year-old granddaughter." The sources added that "no single incident led to the action." Instead, Benson "saw it as a pattern of behavior that needed to be corrected." LeBlanc's reported "fall from grace raises questions about the future of the city's two major sports clubs." Benson will turn 85 in July, and while he "shows no signs of slowing down, he's said he'd eventually like to cede control to someone in the family." As the "only Benson family member directly involved with the team, LeBlanc was his handpicked successor; she's been groomed to be the guardian of the franchise since joining the organization in 2000."
NEW FACE OF THE TEAM? Sources said that LeBlanc's "sense of entitlement has been a source of conflict with her grandfather, a self-made billionaire from the hardscrabble 7th Ward who shuns the spotlight and still routinely clocks six-day workweeks." Since shortly after Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, LeBlanc "has not worked regularly out of her office at the club's Metairie training facility and has visited the facility just a handful of times." The Hornets sale "wasn't the only business appointment LeBlanc recently missed." The fact that the Saints' head of business operations "wasn't involved in the largest transaction in franchise history indicates a clear diminishing base of power." Technically, LeBlanc's "standing in the Saints' corporate tree rests just below her grandfather" and above Saints Exec VP & CFO DENNIS LAUSCHA. But anyone who has "done business with the Saints knows Lauscha has emerged as the go-to person." He makes the "decisions and the deals, and it looks like that will be the case with the Hornets as well" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/22).