Tom Benson, the billionaire who bought the New Orleans Saints football team and New Orleans Pelicans basketball team and kept them in the city of his birth, has died. He was 90.

He died on Thursday at Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson, Louisiana, outside New Orleans, according to the Saints website. He entered the hospital on Feb. 16 with the flu.

Benson built his net worth of about $1.7 billion through automobile dealerships, banking concerns and real estate. At its peak, his automotive empire encompassed 27 dealerships in Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina, according to a biography on the websites of some of his dealerships. He sold brands including Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Chevrolet.

His other holdings included San Antonio-based Lone Star Capital Bank and New Orleans television station WVUE-TV. In 1996, he sold Benson Financial Corp., a collection of banks located in the southern U.S., to Norwest Corp. for $78 million in stock.

Buys Saints
In 1985 he led the group that paid about $70 million to buy the Saints from founding owner John Mecom Jr., who was weighing whether to move the franchise. Benson became sole owner in 1992.

The high point of his tenure came in February 2010, when the Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl for the franchise’s first title since its founding in 1967. The victory, which came almost five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, was a milestone in the city’s recovery.

“Louisiana, by way of New Orleans, is back, and this shows the whole world,” Benson exulted upon receiving the championship Lombardi Trophy. “We’re back, we’re back, the whole world, we’re back.”

As a Mercedes-Benz dealer, Benson helped drive the talks that led Mercedes-Benz USA in 2011 to buy naming rights to the Saints’ home, the Superdome in New Orleans.

‘Legendary’ Figure
“Tom Benson’s contributions to New Orleans and the National Football League were legendary,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday in a statement. “He purchased a team that had never had a winning season; by the third year of his ownership, the Saints were in the playoffs. Tom kept the Saints together through the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and his decision to bring the team back to New Orleans gave the entire region hope and confidence that they would recover.”

He was known earlier in his tenure for a dance, nicknamed the Benson Boogie, he would do on the field to celebrate victories.

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