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Volume 21 No. 2
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Fiesta plans to expand board, increase oversight

The Fiesta Bowl plans to expand its board of directors and executive committee, and impose more rules on the college football game’s operations, in response to the ousting of CEO John Junker after an independent report showed excessive spending and alleged illegal reimbursements.

Fiesta Bowl Chairman Duane Woods said the current board has 27 seats, including five executive committee members who have a more active role in oversight. He said that executive panel likely will be expanded to 12 members.

“We need a larger executive committee,” Woods said.

He said those additions would include people from outside the Fiesta Bowl organization, and he is talking to local CFOs and compliance executives about joining the panel.

Woods also said the Fiesta Bowl is adopting new bylaws and governance rules to help avoid some of the expense excesses incurred by Junker and other bowl executives. Those included $33,000 spent on Junker’s 50th birthday party in Pebble Beach, Calif., as well as allocations for bowl executives’ cars and cable bills, and schmoozing of Arizona politicians and their families.

“We need a lot more oversight,” he said.

In the wake of the report’s release last week, the Bowl Championship Series was looking at dropping the Glendale, Ariz., game from its rotation. In addition, along with the bowl committee’s firing of Junker, two Fiesta Bowl executives — COO Natalie Wisneski and Jay Fields, vice president for marketing — resigned amid fallout from the report, according to a bowl spokesperson.

Woods said the bowl committee is leaning toward hiring outsiders to the Phoenix area but is open to hiring Phoenix-area candidates if they are the best fit.

Observers noted the possibility of the bowl hiring executives with experience cleaning up college sports programs or someone recognizable to intercollegiate athletics, particularly for a leadership position.

“If they can get somebody from a major sports league, NCAA or some other successful business, sports, entertainment operation, this could be an amazing opportunity for the right executive,” said Jeff Hecht, CEO of Jeff Hecht Public Relations in Phoenix and former executive for the Phoenix Coyotes and Winnipeg Jets.

Ray Artigue, president of the Artigue Agency and a former Phoenix Suns executive, said the ideal Fiesta Bowl candidate will be able to do short-term damage control and turn around the bowl’s tarnished image while also, for the long term, have fundraising skills and business acumen.

“It’s going to be job on top of a job,” he said. While the NCAA and BCS might like an outsider, someone new would have a learning curve on the other aspects of the position, Artigue said.

Local business and political circles mentioned familiar sports business names among the possibilities, including former Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo.

“The Fiesta Bowl is a very valuable asset for the community that has a great economic impact and great exposure,” Colangelo said. “We need to protect it.”
Colangelo said the Fiesta Bowl had not contacted him about the now-vacant CEO job, and he’s not particularly interested in the position.

“A few people have already come to me asking for my support for them,” Colangelo said. “The body is still warm, and people are already all over it. There are a lot of interested people.”

He added that the scandal rocking the Fiesta Bowl didn’t come as a surprise to him. Colangelo, now chairman of USA Basketball, said he had “been aware of issues that have been percolating” pertaining to the bowl. “I didn’t know all the details, but the speculation was out there,” he said.

Meanwhile, Frito-Lay wasn’t saying much last week about its naming-rights association with the bowl game. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl has been played under that name since 1996.

“Frito-Lay is surprised and disappointed to learn the findings of the Fiesta Bowl’s internal investigation,” the Dallas-based subsidiary of PepsiCo said in a statement. “We are pleased that the Fiesta Bowl is taking concrete action to address the findings of its report, and expect it to move quickly to implement its announced reforms. We are being updated regularly by the Fiesta Bowl organization and will be evaluating the situation as it progresses.”

Frito-Lay spokesman Chris Kuechenmeister said the company did not have any further comment.

Woods said the bowl committee is being candid with BCS, Frito-Lay and other sponsors about what happened and steps being taken to improve oversight.

Mike Sunnucks and Lynn Ducey write for the Phoenix Business Journal, an affiliated publication. Phoenix Business Journal staff writer Adam Kress contributed to this report.