SBD/February 20, 2013/Facilities

FAU Inks Stadium Naming-Rights Deal With Prison Company The GEO Group

FAU's naming-rights deal is the first in the stadium's two-year-old history
Florida Atlantic Univ. yesterday announced that naming rights to its on-campus stadium “will go to a company that runs prisons, the GEO Group, for $6 million over 12 years,” according to Hal Habib of the PALM BEACH POST. The deal was “unanimously approved” by the university’s BOT with GEO Group Chair George Zoley, an FAU alumnus and former BOT Chair, in attendance. The GEO Group’s world HQs “are in Boca Raton, within sight of what is now GEO Group Stadium.” School and GEO Group reps “described the agreement as a philanthropic ‘gift,’ differentiating it from standard sports-facility marketing agreements.” FAU AD Pat Chun said that the money “will go a long way toward balancing his budget.” The university had “sought a naming partner for the two years the stadium has stood” (PALM BEACH POST, 2/20). In Ft. Lauderdale, Dieter Kurtenbach notes the naming-rights deal -- which is the athletic department’s “largest contribution -- brought closure to what Chun called his top priority upon accepting his position in July.” FAU advertised a “$5 million price tag for the naming rights, which would have been for 10 years.” Former FAU AD Craig Angelos “failed to secure naming rights in the year after building the stadium, one of the primary reasons he was fired last April” (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 2/20).

GRAY AREA: In N.Y., Greg Bishop writes the announcement perhaps “pushed stadium naming to its zenith, if only because the GEO Group is a private prison corporation.” There is “no obvious precedent" for this partnership. FAU President Mary Jane Saunders described the deal as “wonderful” and the company as “well run.” But it also “left some unsettled, including those who study the business of sports and track the privatization of the prison industry.” To those critics, this “was a jarring case of the lengths colleges and teams will go to produce revenue.” Univ. of Oregon Warsaw Sports Marketing Center Dir Paul Swangard said, “This is an example of great donor intent, terrible execution.” Grassroots Leadership Exec Dir Bob Libal, whose social justice group opposes private prison systems, said, “It’s like calling something Blackwater Stadium. This is a company whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents that really draw into question their ability to successfully manage a prison facility.” The company has “been opposed by civil liberty and human rights groups and immigrant rights organizations.” It also has “been cited by state and federal regulators and lost a series of high-profile lawsuits.” A GEO Group spokesperson in an e-mail wrote, “We have always adhered to the highest standards in our industry.” Saunders was asked if FAU “had looked into the allegations against the GEO Group.” She said, “We think it’s a wonderful company, and we’re very proud to partner with them” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/20).

WHAT IS THE DEAL'S END GAME? YAHOO SPORTS’ Frank Schwab wondered, “What's the upside for a prison company putting its name on a stadium? … We doubt FAU fans are going to want to end up in GEO Group prisons as a result of the sponsorship” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/19).
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