SBD/February 21, 2013/Facilities

Diverging Opinions On Whether FAU's Deal With Prison Company Was Fair Or Foul

FAU's renaming of their facility to GEO Group Stadium is part of a 12-year deal
An online petition has been drafted calling on Florida Atlantic Univ. to drop its association with private-prison operator GEO Group, and it includes "a pledge to 'no longer support FAU athletics' until ties are severed," according to Hal Habib of the PALM BEACH POST. FAU Tuesday announced it had signed a $6M, 12-year naming-rights deal with the company, but numerous visitors to the school's Facebook page were "critical, with many citing the moniker 'Owlcatraz,' playing off the athletic nickname Owls." But the deal also "attracted 333 Facebook 'likes' as of" yesterday afternoon, and many "acknowledged that FAU, like most athletic programs, hardly can turn away from" $6M. Z Sports & Entertainment Exec VP & Managing Dir Scott Becher said, "You want the right price at the right term. Ideally, you want a local company involved, and you also benefit if there’s an authentic connection to the university. And they hit all those criteria." GEO Group VP/Corporate Relations and FAU alumnus Pablo Paez said, "We are not going to be apologetic about this partnership. As people realize the benefits and see the positive impact on the university and on this area, they will come around” (PALM BEACH POST, 2/21).

JOKES COME ROLLING IN: ABC's Jimmy Kimmel noted the agreement and said, "The stadium’s being sponsored by prisons. I guess they figured a lot of the athletes end up in prison anyway and this just cuts out a step. The GEO Group paid $6 million for the naming rights, but the school says very little will change. The only change they're making is hot dogs will now go for two packs of cigarettes” (“Jimmy Kimmel Live,” ABC, 2/20). NBC Sports Network's Dave Briggis asked, "So you're going to name it what? The Big House is taken.” Briggs: “Instead of the whiteouts and the blackouts, you got to have ‘Orange Jumpsuit Night’” (“The Crossover,” NBC Sports Network, 2/20). In West Palm Beach, Frank Cerabino writes a parody piece under the header, "FAU Not Being Held Prisoner To New Stadium Partnership With GEO Group." Cerabino sarcastically writes, "As for the stadium itself, we’re planning for watch towers on all four corners of the end zone and conjugal visit trailers on the loge level for VIPs. ... Coach Carl Pelini said he’d be willing to work with the team to see how feasible it would be for them to play with loose-fitting drawstring pants. The wide receivers will have get used to making one-handed catches" (PALM BEACH POST, 2/21).

NO LAUGHING MATTER: A South Florida SUN-SENTINEL editorial states jokes must be "expected for the new name of the football stadium." However, GEO is a "legitimate company, with $3 billion in assets." This is a local company "doing legitimate business, and $6 million will go a long way toward addressing the financial challenges facing FAU's athletics program." It is "not as if securing big money for stadium naming rights is easy." Have you "noticed that a year after it opened, the Miami Marlins are still playing in Marlins Park?" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 2/21).
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