Animal Conservation

New Orleans Pelicans: What’s In A Name?


When does an NBA team’s name signal its commitment to environmental sustainability? New Orleans’ choice of the Pelicans moniker in 2013 tells such a story.


In 2002, the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans, keeping the team name despite there being no special link between New Orleans and that particular species of bee. New Orleans remained the Hornets until 2013, when a 2nd Charlotte team, then called the Bobcats, decided they wanted to bring the Hornets name back to Charlotte.

Following all that? Good!

Tom Benson and his grand daughter Rita Benson LeBlanc, co-owners of both the New Orleans NBA team and the NFL’s Saints, decided to oblige the Charlotte ownership, led by Michael Jordan. This meant they needed a new name.

The Bensons went with the Pelicans. Why?

According to a January 2013 club statement, the Pelicans name was chosen because “it symbolized Louisiana’s most pressing need for coastal restoration and wildlife conservation.” The health and sustainability of the region’s wetlands, recovering from the devastation of Katrina in 2005 and the BP Oil Spill in 2010, among other disasters, thus became a cornerstone of the Pelicans’ community relations platforms.

Tom Benson said ” The Pelican will…not only be a name of a sports franchise but it will also be the face of the continued recovery of our region.”

As owners of the NFL’s Saints, the Bensons had a leading role in the that recovery from the early days after Katrina, as they took a forward-looking, sustainability-focused approach to the rebuilding of the New Orleans Superdome. Per Ms. Benson-LeBlanc, in an interview with Bloomberg in August, 2013, “Post-Katrina, we re-skinned the entire building by using energy efficient materials. This…made a dramatic impact to the bottom line.”


Rita Benson LeBlanc espn
Rita Benson LeBlanc, co-owner of both the New Orleans Saints (NFL) and New Orleans Pelicans (NBA). Ms Benson LeBlanc has spearheaded the Pelicans’ high profile sustainability efforts. (Photo Credit: ESPN)


Pelicans’ management has built upon what the Saints started, employing a mix of hands-on cleanup work, PR and lobbying, education and fund-raising:

  • Oil slicks threaten all wildlife, including pelicans. So the team, when it was still named the Hornets, took an active role in the cleanup of the BP oil spill. “Planet Rebound” (great name, no?) deploys club employees, including players, in the affected wetlands, rescuing and cleaning oil-covered animals. That assistance continues today, 4 years after the event.
  • The Pelicans and Audubon Nature Institute paired up on an environmental education initiative in schools and in the community, focused on the preservation of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.
  • The Pelicans and Greater New Orleans, Inc., (GNO) joined forces to make sure funds from the RESTORE Act, the federal trust fund that provides resources to BP Spill-affected areas, continue to be directed to the Louisiana wetlands.
  • GNO and the Pelicans are also working together to bring Pelicans players to visit the coastal wetlands and help with restoration efforts.
  • Toast For The Coast is the high-profile, annual fundraising event which supports the activities described above. Fans interact with the players and coaching staff who in turn share their experiences in the wetlands.



Anthony Davis Pelicans
New Orleans Pelicans stars Anthony Davis (l) and Ryan Anderson at Toast For The Coast, the club’s annual fundraiser supporting its sustainability efforts. (Photo Credit: New Orleans Pelicans)


The Hornets/Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s weaker sisters on the court since they moved from Charlotte. But led by emerging superstar Anthony Davis, the Pelicans are on the upswing. Off the court, the Pelicans are already a beacon at the intersection of Green & Sports.



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  1. Great post! I had no idea. That’s so cool that the Pelicans are working to bring players to coastal wetlands. To me, that is the ultimate intersection of sports and sustainability. It is one thing for the environmentalists building the stadiums, etc. to build w/ green initiatives, yet quite another when the involvement is on behalf of those actually playing the sports. Love it!

  2. Agree. Seems to me the Bensons, as owners of the Saints and Pelicans, really get the importance of environmental sustainability to the Gulf Coast region, post-Katrina (hard to believe that Aug 2015 will be the 10 year anniversary). Question is will concern for the environment ever be able to trump the interests of the fossil fuel industry in Louisiana. Over the past 75-100 years, the industry has won time after time, which has meant, among other things, the destruction of much of the barrier islands that offered protection for the mainland against storm surges. Thus we are going to work to get an interview with Rita Benson LeBlanc to get deeper into this issue.

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