Owner, Executive Vice President, New Orleans Saints
Rita Benson LeBlanc is the Owner/Executive Vice President of the New Orleans Saints. She is responsible for overseeing all of the club’s sales and marketing efforts, community affairs and youth programs initiatives, game day entertainment and stadium operations.
LeBlanc works closely with her grandfather, Tom Benson, to represent the club at NFL Ownership meetings, where she is chairwoman of the league’s Employee Benefits committee and serves on the International Committee. In 2009, the Benson family displayed their unwavering commitment to the future success of the franchise and the region, announcing a new partnership with the state of Louisiana that continues the club’s commitment to the state through 2025.
The agreement called for the club to make a long-term investment that dramatically revitalized the neighborhood around the Superdome with the addition of The Benson Tower and Champions Square. As a result of the agreement, the Superdome has undergone extensive renovations and upgrades that were completed for the 2011 season and make it a world-class facility for Saints fans and visitors to the Superdome.
In addition to her responsibilities with the Saints, LeBlanc also plays a key role with several investments made by her family to spur the economic development of New Orleans. In 2009, Zelia Inc. purchased two properties in the city’s Central Business District (CBD) that had become blighted and idle since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. LeBlanc has overseen the effort to redevelop Benson Tower, a 26-story building with over 480,000 square feet of office space, into one of the premier office and commercial buildings in the CBD. Further leading the rejuvenation of the city’s Poydras Corridor and CBD is the redevelopment of the former New Orleans Center Shopping Center into Champions Square, a unique sports and entertainment complex adjacent to Benson Tower and the Louisiana Superdome.
Champions Square, which made its historic debut in 2010, is a partnership between the State of Louisiana and Zelia Inc. and has been instrumental in securing several premier sporting events for New Orleans and the Gulf South Region. LeBlanc also serves on the Board of Directors for the Louisiana Media Company, which includes WVUE FOX-8, the only locally owned television station in New Orleans.
Since becoming an Executive Vice President in 2005, LeBlanc has been a driving force behind club’s successes, both on and off the field. In 2006 the team achieved its first full season ticket sellout (preseason and regular season) prior to the start of the season. This success, fueled by innovative restructuring of ticket prices and categories, has resulted in a season ticket waiting list of over 73,000.
In addition, every Luxury Suite in the Superdome has been leased since 2008 while Saints merchandise has consistently been one of the top selling lines in the NFL. On the field, the Saints have compiled a 53-33 overall record since 2006, appeared in the playoffs three times and won Super Bowl XLIV.
Fostering the rejuvenated spirit of the city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region, LeBlanc uses creative connecting not only on the Saints’ behalf but also on a multitude of civic, cultural and philanthropic levels through her passion for the city she calls home. This community commitment extends beyond economic development with a focus on improving the quality of life of citizens in need and Gulf Coast environmental protection.
She was a key figure behind an initiative in 2010 in which the club raffled off a Super Bowl XLIV ring to raise over $1.5 million, which was distributed to those most affected by the Gulf oil spill. The commitment to the betterment of the environment is an important pillar of LeBlanc’s core beliefs, as she and the Saints have joined in partnership with several coastal preservation groups, including America’s Wetlands and Women of the Storm, to raise awareness and funding for this vital national resource.
LeBlanc oversees more than $5 million in annual charitable contributions, goods and services donated by the Saints. Serving the needs of a community devastated by Hurricane Katrina has been a priority. In the immediate days following the storm, LeBlanc helped establish the Saints Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, which raised over $1 million to assist the citizens of the Gulf South. Over 5,000 charities, schools, churches, foundations and festivals receive in-kind donations from the club annually.
Another longstanding part of the club’s community initiatives has been a commitment to youth football. LeBlanc’s close working relationship with the League office has proved to be beneficial in securing league grants and programs that benefit Gulf South youth and charitable initiatives. Since 2006, the Saints have distributed over $2 million dollars to high school and youth football organizations to help in their post-Katrina rebuilding process.
Under LeBlanc’s direction, the Saints maintain an active presence throughout the Gulf South by developing and implementing programs that not only allow children to experience the excitement of Saints football but also teach important life skills. Over 50,000 young people are reached yearly through the Saints youth programs department, with over 500 instructors, coaches and athletic directors receive valuable training and over 100 schools and playgrounds in the region are visited.
Continuing to help foster the growth of the sport among the region’s youth through education, LeBlanc was honored by the Pop Warner with the 2008 Female Achievement Award, the first female NFL executive to be recognized by the national organization.
Her dedication and efforts in youth football development was also recognized by the Professional Football Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society, as the recipient of the 2008 “Star Performance Award”.
LeBlanc has also been recognized for her standing in the sports industry by Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” three times (2007, 2008 and 2011), honoring the 40 most influential sports executives under the age of 40. In 2008, she was honored for her leadership of the Saints during and after Katrina and the organization’s rise to national and international prominence as one of three selections by vote for W.I.S.E’s (Women in Sports and Events) “Women of the Year.”
LeBlanc’s sound management skills were noticed locally when she was honored as New Orleans CityBusiness’ 2010 Woman of the Year. Earlier in 2010, she participated in the Fortune/Time/CNN Global Forum in South Africa, which gathered leaders in the fields of government, science and technology, business, sports, media and entertainment to focus on substantive issues and opportunities in addressing pressing world issues.
In addition to her efforts with the Saints, LeBlanc has also taken an active leadership role in promoting the economic growth and development of New Orleans and the Gulf South, while working to recruit new businesses as well by serving on the boards of the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, Greater New Orleans Inc. and the New Orleans Business Alliance. She previously served on New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Economic Development Task Force.
LeBlanc played an integral role at both the local and league level in helping secure Super Bowl XLVII for New Orleans prior to and during the 2009 NFL League meetings. She serves on the Executive Board of the New Orleans 2013 Super Bowl Host Committee. Also a key part of the bidding process for upcoming men’s and women’s NCAA basketball Final Fours, LeBlanc and her family are committed to bringing future Super Bowls and other major sporting events to the area.
Her leadership role in the local community has been evident, as she has played a critical role in helping build the Saints into a World Championship franchise and one that was voted by ESPN The Magazine (June, 2010) as “the best organization in professional sports.” The team was named “2006 Marketer of the Year” by the American Marketing Association’s New Orleans region chapter and received the MAX award for its 2006 “Winning Is An Attitude” advertising campaign.
LeBlanc’s sports industry career has encompassed work in various areas within the Saints organization, serving in virtually every department within the club, working in concert to insure the club’s fiscal initiatives, business development, stadium viability and enhancement projects. Her past sports experience includes roles with the National Football League office in New York, as well as their NFL Properties Publishing Group and NFL Films divisions.
A graduate of Texas A&M University with a B.S. in Agribusiness, LeBlanc also received a certificate in International Business from the Lowry Mays School of Business. She attended Stanford University’s Executive Education Graduate School of Business in 2004 as part of the NFL’s Managers Program.