SBJ/February 25-March 3, 2013/Facilities

Florida Atlantic turns to Sunrise

Florida Atlantic University has signed a short-term marketing deal with Sunrise Sports & Entertainment to book events at newly renamed Geo Group Stadium, the school’s 30,000-seat football facility.

The deal includes providing Sunrise Sports, parent company of the Florida Panthers, the opportunity to sell naming rights for FAU Arena, a 5,000-seat arena that opened in 1984.

The Florida Panthers’ parent company will try to sell naming rights to FAU Arena, as well as booking events for FAU’s Geo Group Stadium.
Photo: J.C. RIDLEY / FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY
In addition, the Boca Raton school receives brand exposure at BB&T Center on digital signs, in-game advertising through the Panthers’ media partners, concourse displays and discounted tickets for students available one hour before every hockey game.

Sunrise Sports is paid a monthly fee plus commission if it sells naming rights for FAU Arena, said Michael Yormark, the group’s president and chief operating officer.

FAU wants to bring more special events to its stadium, which has an unusual amenity for a college football venue: an ocean view. It opened in October 2011 but has seen minimal use beyond the Owls’ five home football games a year, said Patrick Chun, Florida Atlantic’s athletic director.

“It’s a beautiful on-campus stadium but it mostly sits empty, which is a lost opportunity for us,” Chun said.

The stadium is in Palm Beach County, 33 miles northeast of BB&T Center. The county has a population of 1.3 million and continues to draw an influx of residents migrating north of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, making it key to Sunrise Sports extending its reach in South Florida, Yormark said.

The stadium drew national attention last week after FAU officials announced they had signed Geo Group to a 12-year, $6 million naming-rights deal for the facility, an agreement the school did in-house. The company, which runs prisons, has been sued for human rights violations, accusations that Geo Group denies.

Geo Group Chairman George Zoley is an FAU alum and a former member of the school’s board of trustees.

Yormark, who has sold three naming-rights deals on his own, including two agreements for the Panthers’ arena, said the controversy over the Geo Group Stadium agreement should not affect Sunrise Sports’ marketing of the building.

“We believe that ultimately the location, size, marketing assets and amenities offered at the venue will determine its ability to host concerts and other events,” Yormark said.

Sunrise Sports’ first partnership with a university has been in the works since Chun left Ohio State to become FAU’s athletic director in July. The major league organization contacted FAU and had several meetings with Chun over the past six months before completing the deal.

The agreement has similarities to the deals Ohio State has signed over the past three years to jointly operate Nationwide Arena, home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, during Chun’s tenure as OSU’s deputy senior associate athletic director.

Since May 2010, the same staff that runs Schottenstein Center on campus has helped turn things around financially at Nationwide Arena, resulting in a 15-year extension signed in March 2012, said Xen Riggs, chief operating officer for Columbus Arena Management.

It’s in that same entrepreneurial spirit that FAU and Sunrise Sports forged a partnership, Chun said.

“I have appropriate expectations,” he said. “For us, it’s mining a niche to see what we can do to attract special events.”

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