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Amended Branch Field agreement ends naming rights deal after season

One of the University of New Mexico’s highest-profile athletics boosters has renegotiated the terms of her football field naming rights deal to pay slightly more than half of what she originally committed.

Prominent attorney Margaret Branch last year signed an amended gift agreement for the naming rights to UNM’s football field that lowered the total payments to about $830,000. In 2012, the gift was announced as $1.5 million. The playing surface has since been called Branch Field.

The University of New Mexico Foundation on Thursday released the updated agreement — signed in June 2017 — to the Journal, along with a joint written statement from Branch and the foundation. The Journal had requested a copy of any such agreement on multiple occasions over the past two years.

Margaret and Turner Branch, also a prominent New Mexico lawyer, had entered into the agreement in 2012, pledging they would pay $214,285 annually for seven years. Turner Branch is Margaret’s late husband, who died in 2016.

The words “BRANCH FIELD” with the names “Turner and Margaret” beneath are painted on the turf near the 25-yard-line at both ends of the football field.

The agreement was supposed to give them naming rights for 15 years, UNM announced at the time.

Naming rights will now end after the 2018 football season, according to the amended agreement.

Copies of canceled checks that were released show the Branches have thus far paid $528,570 for the rights. The amended agreement says Margaret Branch will make $100,000 payments annually through 2020.

The Journal was unable to reach Branch late Thursday. However, the documents released included a letter she wrote to UNM Foundation President Henry Nemcik on May 31, 2017, in which she said her husband’s 2016 death had complicated matters.

“I know how important this was to Turner. Unfortunately, due to Turner’s untimely passing, any funds and outstanding payments are currently tied up in Turner’s estate, and I’ve been told it will not be released to pay the Foundation any time soon,” she said.

She also cited the foundation’s 2017 $10 million deal with Dreamstyle Remodeling and its president Larry Chavez, which included naming rights for the football stadium and the Pit as another reason to amend the field agreement.

She congratulated Nemcik on the gift from Chavez but said it “devalues” the Branch sponsorship.

“I can’t imagine many media outlets or anyone else referring to it as Branch Field at Dreamstyle Stadium. It will be referred to as Dreamstyle Stadium, as it should given Mr. Chavez’s generous donation,” she wrote.

She also suggested UNM name the field in honor of the Chavez family.

Larry Chavez said Thursday he doesn’t think his stadium sponsorship devalues the field’s naming rights. He doesn’t want it named after him or his company and instead would like to see another donor in its place.

The joint statement issued Thursday said UNM and the foundation are “deeply grateful to Margaret and Turner Branch for their generosity over many years,” saying the couple had also supported the law school, arts programs and more.

The foundation released the information about the renegotiated deal Thursday after fielding several individuals’ public records requests for a copy of the Branch Field agreement and proof of payment, the statement said.

The Journal first requested from the foundation a copy of the contract in October 2016, but the foundation denied the request, citing donor confidentiality. Multiple subsequent requests were made for proof of payment on the naming rights deal.

Margaret Branch ultimately granted the foundation permission to release the agreement and related pledge payments given the “frequency” of records requests and “the undue and inaccurate publicity surrounding the foundation’s efforts to honor its obligations to maintain donor confidentiality,” according to the statement. The statement did not cite any specific examples of inaccurate publicity.

The foundation has long maintained it is not subject to the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act because it is a private entity legally separate from UNM. In response to a lawsuit filed by independent journalist Daniel Libit, a state District Court judge earlier this year ruled its records are subject to IPRA. However, the foundation is appealing that ruling.

There has been questions and scrutiny over other UNM naming rights deals.

Branch records release comes about four months after another high-profile and scrutinized Lobo booster, Steve Chavez, challenged other naming rights donors to publicly share documentation related to their deals.

Chavez in June released the agreement and proof of payment tied to the naming rights deal his former company, WisePies Pizza & Salad, had for the Pit from late 2014 to mid-2017. Some people had questioned the deal’s solvency. But Chavez showed he had paid what he owed for the period he held the rights.

“Why has WisePies been the only one targeted? … In the interest of transparency, I’d like to call other sponsors and major donors to provide copies of their agreements and proof of payments, just as I have done here, spending financial resources and time putting this information together,” he wrote in a June 2018 statement. “If we are a community championing transparency, then let’s come together and release all sponsorship records.”

Margaret Branch said in her 2017 letter to Nemcik she intended to continue supporting Popejoy Hall and the Lobo women’s golf team. Earlier this year, she also contributed $30,000 to buy new equipment for the women’s cross country team after Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed its funding request.

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