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Volume 24 No. 160

People and Pop Culture

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).

Crowd Seats Founder & CEO JUSTIN CENER appeared on Fox Business Friday to discuss his new venture, a Groupon-like website that offers sports fans daily discounts. Cener said Crowd Seats “is the first and only flash deal site for sports tickets.” Cener: “We offer incredible ticket deals on the best sporting events in town with discounts from between 50% and 90% off without any added fees. What really sets us apart is the simplicity. We curate a great sports experience, we set it up with great discounts that enable a lot of sports fans or more sports fans or just general consumers to experience a live sporting event.” Cener said Crowd Seats “takes a percentage of each ticket sold.” Cener: “We work with teams. We also work with brokers. It really depends on basically the schedule. Teams are going to know in advance if they’re going to have some excess inventory so in some cases we’ll work directly with them. Other cases we work with brokers that have a lot excess inventory or last-minute inventory.” Cener added, “As a fan it’s going to be no different experience as if you were going to buy from a broker web site or Crowd Seats.” Cener said he is “pretty much self-funded.” Cener: “I'm a developer and designer myself so I was able to offset a lot of those costs. I started development last May and (am) pretty much running that way since and hopefully, looking to expand but for right now it’s definitely just self-funded” (“Fox Business After the Bell,” Fox Business, 4/20).

NFL Players Inc., the marketing and licensing arm of the NFLPA, named former LPGA VP/Corporate Partnerships KATHY VU its new VP/Licensing & Business Development. Vu will report to NFL Players Inc. President KEITH GORDON and will oversee category service and development, digital, e-commerce and new business. At the LPGA, Vu oversaw business initiatives on behalf of pro golfers and tour events, while leading a re-launch of the LPGA's website. Prior to working at the LPGA, Vu worked for USA Today for 17 years (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).

MOVING ON: In this week’s SportsBusiness Journal, Terry Lefton reports GMR VP & Group Account Dir TAMERA GREEN will depart in mid-May “to explore other professional opportunities.” Green “worked closely on Gillette’s sports marketing efforts, which included the ‘Young Guns’ platform in NASCAR and several Olympic initiatives.” GMR Exec VP/Sports Marketing MIKE BOYKIN did not “discount the possibility of Green working on some projects that could extend her relationship with GMR past mid-May” (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/23 issue).

EXECS: The Univ. of California-Berkeley named National Sports Forum Marketing Coordinator JOE SHAPERO CRM Manager for the athletic department, effective May 1. Shapero will be replaced by CHANTELLE NEEP (THE DAILY).

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In Pennsylvania, Sara Ganim cited a source as saying that Penn State Univ. offered to name the school's football stadium after late coach JOE PATERNO "as leverage to get the family to sign a full release in exchange" for paying the full contract after Paterno was fired in November. However, the source said that the family "didn't budge" off of Paterno's long-standing request to keep the Beaver Stadium name on the venue. Following Paterno’s death in January, the university “offered the family three items in exchange for a full release, which would have prevented the family from suing the university and from publicly speaking negatively about it.” Those items were the football stadium name, an "apology for how Paterno was fired by phone" and a promise to honor the contract "that was eventually honored last week” (Harrisburg PATRIOT-NEWS, 4/22).

MAGIC MAN: In L.A., Kim Christensen profiled Guggenheim Partners CEO and Dodgers Controlling Owner MARK WALTER and wrote though MAGIC JOHNSON is the “famous public face of the new ownership team” of the Dodgers, Walter will "have a hand in everything from player salaries to improvements” at Dodger Stadium. Walter often is described as "decent ... private, unassuming and almost studiously unflashy.” Walter until recently was “seldom in the news -- and apparently liked it that way.” When the Chicago Tribune contacted about three dozen of the city’s top bankers, investors and power brokers after the winning bid for the Dodgers was announced last month, most of the execs "had never met Walter and none said they knew him well.” Walter has a net worth of $1.3B, and ranks seventh among MLB owners (L.A. TIMES, 4/21).

STEELERS IN THE CLEAR: The Steelers “do not have to pay attorney fees” related to former NFLer CHIDI IWUOMA's worker’s compensation claim. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that Iwuoma, who played for the Steelers from October ’02-September ’06 and again from December ’06-September ’07, “clearly suffered injuries while with the team," but he was “not ‘disabled’ since he went on to play for other pro teams.” He signed with the Titans in December ’07 and played two games for them. Over the span of several months in ’08 and ’09, Iwuoma “filed four separate petitions for workers' compensation benefits” related to various injuries he suffered while playing for the Steelers (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 4/23).

NAMES: Under Armour notified employees Thursday about a “data breach that may have exposed their names, Social Security numbers and salary information.” The company told employees in an e-mail that an "unencrypted thumb drive containing employee payroll information," which was sent by mail in connection with a recent audit, “was lost in the U.S. mail on or about April 12 by its auditing firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers” (DAYTON DAILY NEWS, 4/21)....Desert Classic Charities and the Humana Foundation “passed out a tournament-record $2,045,000 to 40 desert charities, more than $200,000 more than the event’s previous mark.” The event, formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic, has now “donated $52 million in 53 years” to various local organizations (DESERT SUN, 4/21)....Chargers S ERIC WEDDLE “is more than just the honorary co-chair" of "Invest in Excellence: The Campaign for Utah Athletics." Weddle announced a $250,000 donation at Saturday night’s kickoff dinner at Rice-Eccles Stadium (DESERET NEWS, 4/23)....The Suns and D'Backs are creating a new "speaker series aimed at business audiences.” One session will examine “what it’s like to work in the front office and the business operations of pro sports franchises.” The series will begin tomorrow with a panel discussion featuring D'Backs Senior Dir of Legal Affairs & Associate General Counsel CALEB JAY and run through October (, 4/20)....EPL club Manchester United F WAYNE ROONEY and England rugby union player MATT DAWSON are “among the new wave of high-profile figures suing News Corp. Chair RUPERT MURDOCH's News International over alleged 'News of the World' phone hacking” (GUARDIAN, 4/21). … Hendrick Motorsports Owner RICK HENDRICK tomorrow is opening a $55M high-end auto mall in north Charlotte. The Hendrick Luxury Auto Mall has three separate dealerships -- BMW, Lexus and Mercedes -- and each has its own building (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 4/22).