Mississippi Saints?

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The New Orleans Saints ended negotiations with the state of Louisiana on Tuesday and said they are working on a plan to move the team to Mississippi, Gov. Mike Foster's chief of staff said.

Steve Perry said that if the move to Mississippi is not made, owner Tom Benson intends to sell the team. Perry added that the state will seek to put together and investment group to purchase the team.

Perry was speaking at a news conference on the latest efforts to keep the Saints from leaving New Orleans.

Saints officials were not at the news conference.

Perry said there was widespread support crossing political, racial, urban and rural lines to keep the team in the state. He also said the state's offers would have kept the team among the top ten in NFL revenue.

"You really wonder why they want to walk away from that," Perry said.

The main disagreement is over when the Saints would be moved to a new stadium, largely financed by the state. The state says it would have to be after 2010; the Saints insist it must be as early as 2006, Perry said.

The Saints ended negotiations after two hours of meetings Tuesday morning said.

"We're still totally committed to the Saints, but when they decided to terminate negotions this morning it was clear to us that we had a potential partner that didn't really want to get married," Perry said.

The state and the Saints have been exchanging offers for weeks.

Last week on his radio program, Foster said the Saints' latest offer differs significantly from the state's latest in various details, but not in the amount of money involved.

Saints officials say the team needs more revenue to be competitive in the NFL. Earlier this year, the team asked the state to pay for most of a new $450 million football-only, retractable dome stadium by 2006.

State officials' initial offer included $75 million in Superdome renovations and an agreement to study the prospect of building a new stadium and finding ways to give the team more cash.

This week, the state put forth a new plan which included $215 million in incentives plus the $75 million Superdome renovation.

Under the state's latest offer, the Saints would profit from free Superdome rent, a greater share of advertising and concessions revenue, income from a proposed 4 percent tax on tickets for events at the Superdome and the nearby New Orleans Arena, an income tax on visiting teams' players and money from the naming rights to the Superdome.

The state also would build a new stadium, to be completed between 2009 and 2011, if the Saints still insist they need one. The state would have to approve a stadium by the end of 2005 or the team could pay a penalty and leave.

By Mary Foster
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