SBJ/April 8-14, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Sunrise Sports to seek naming-rights buyer for FAU stadium after Geo Group controversy

Florida Atlantic University has turned to Sunrise Sports & Entertainment to sell naming rights for its football stadium after the school’s much-criticized deal with a prison operator fell apart last week.

In February, Geo Group, a private manager of prison facilities, signed an agreement with FAU to donate $6 million to the school over the next 12 years in exchange for stadium naming rights. The Boca Raton, Fla.-based firm, whose chairman, George Zoley, is an FAU alum and a former member of the school’s board of trustees, withdrew the gift after several campus protests by students and civil rights groups. The company has been sued for human rights violations, accusations Geo Group denies.

The naming-rights issue put a spotlight on the stadium, Sunrise Sports’ Michael Yormark says.
Photo: J.C. RIDLEY
Sunrise Sports, parent company of the Florida Panthers, has assumed the responsibility of remarketing a title sponsorship of the 30,000-seat football venue, said Michael Yormark, the group’s president and chief operating officer.

Sunrise Sports had signed a deal with FAU in January covering the selling of naming rights to both FAU Stadium and FAU Arena, in addition to booking events at the stadium. But soon after the agreement was reached, FAU sold naming rights in-house to Geo Group, cutting short Sunrise Sports’ effort to market those rights. Sunrise Sports instead put its focus on filling the stadium with special events and selling the arena’s naming rights.

Yormark said FAU was talking with Geo Group before the school signed its deal with Sunrise Sports and it had the option of finding a buyer on its own.

Now that the stadium’s naming rights are open again, Sunrise Sports will revert to the terms of the original agreement tied to all three components, company officials said.

During initial conversations with FAU last week, Yormark agreed to be the point man for selling the stadium’s name, he said. Further talks were scheduled with Athletic Director Patrick Chun and Mary Jane Saunders, the school’s president, to talk about naming prospects.

Sunrise Sports has identified categories and companies as potential naming-rights partners, but Yormark did not want to mention names until FAU had OK’d them.

“We want to stay away from any more controversy,” he said. “Geo Group was obviously not the right fit. It’s time to turn the page. It was a learning experience, and now we will remarket the opportunity to put a name on the stadium. That’s our goal.”

If something positive came out of the Geo Group naming-rights debacle, Yormark said, it was the “big spotlight put on this stadium” through a deal that quickly became national news. “It is much more visible than it’s ever been,” he said, “and we think that is to our advantage.”

Ideally, Sunrise Sports would like to get a deal done to rename the stadium by the time college football season starts this fall, Yormark said.

“We have the potential to do a better deal,” Yormark said. “It is a valuable asset and has to be marketed as such. We are going to be aggressive, but ultimately, the university makes the decision.”

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