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UNM AD balks at proposal for new naming rights deal

The Pit officially has been named Dreamstyle Arena, but the company’s relationship with UNM Athletics is deteriorating. (Image courtesy Dreamstyle Remodeling)

Larry Chavez sent the University of New Mexico on Tuesday a proposal for a new 10-year, $7 million naming rights agreement that would keep the name of his company, Dreamstyle Remodeling, adorning the football stadium and historic basketball arena – the Pit – at his alma mater.

UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez said there is no way he, in good faith, can consider such a proposal until Chavez makes good on the terms of what was supposed to be a $10 million naming rights deal Chavez entered into in 2017 that Nuñez feels is still short nearly $2 million.

“We’re reviewing it,” Nuñez told the Journal of Chavez’s new proposal, “but there’s no interest in looking at this proposal until we can address the current financial obligations he still owes.”

Nuñez also noted it seemed disingenuous of Chavez to share the details of the proposal with the media before UNM has reviewed it, a bold stance for the department’s largest financial donor.

Larry Chavez

UNM has a well-documented history of much-hyped athletics naming rights deals that never actually reached financial fulfillment – all deals in place before Nuñez was hired in the fall of 2017. Chavez’s May 2017 Dreamstyle deal is the latest, but how it reached its current status seemingly is what put the two sides at odds.

Chavez paid $1.5 million on the 2017 deal that was between him and Learfield Sports, UNM’s former multimedia rights holder. Once UNM and Learfield parted ways in June 2019, Chavez said he has been waiting for a new deal to be put in place with UNM’s new media rights partner, Outfront. Never, he insists, was he trying to get out of donating to UNM athletics.

“It is my desire and intent to continue supporting UNM with a multi-year, multi-million-dollar naming rights and sponsorship agreement,” Chavez wrote Tuesday to Nuñez and UNM President Garnett Stokes. “… The new arrangement must be a direct partnership with UNM, to avoid the potential of repeating the Learfield situation if the agent leaves the market and more importantly, to ensure that UNM actually receives the lion’s share of Dreamstyle’s contributions.”

An October 2019 letter from Learfield indicates Chavez’s balance with that Texas-based company was $0 and it considers the 2017 agreement to be terminated, but the Journal has also reviewed a 2019 document signed by four parties – Chavez, Nuñez, Lobo Club Director Jalen Dominguez and a Learfield representative – that seems to indicate Chavez agreed to a payment schedule for $1.6 million to cover what was owed for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years. Of that, he paid $200,000 that Nuñez says resolved what he owed Learfield and $300,000 to UNM, but not the rest.

Initially, UNM made clear it wasn’t the one signing the deal with Chavez.

At the highly publicized pep-rally style news conference at the Dreamstyle Remodeling showroom in May 2017, the Journal asked for a copy of the contract. Former athletic director Paul Krebs said to ask Learfield. After the press conference, Learfield Vice President Kyle Denzel, who traveled to Albuquerque for the celebratory announcement of his company’s new agreement, approached a Journal reporter before ever being asked and said, “I’ll save you some time. That’s not something we’d release to you.”

The Journal nevertheless filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request with UNM and was denied with a written response from spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair that read, “This contract is between two private entities. Public Documents are public records, and UNM complies with all public records requirements and laws.”

Chavez’s new proposal asks that any new deal be with UNM directly “to avoid a similar situation occurring as with Learfield.”

Moving forward at all, Nuñez said, isn’t an option.

“Dreamstyle is still behind in payments of $1,900,000 to UNM,” Nuñez wrote in an email to the Journal. “$1.1 of the total amount due is from FY18 and FY19 under the original agreement and the signed amended agreement and $800,000 for FY20 for benefits and assets received.”

Chavez said he feels a new agreement for $7 million – significantly more than any other deal UNM has in place at the moment – would resolve anything the two sides are at odds over right now.

The new proposal would include $400,000 paid for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which begins Wednesday, even if COVID-19 related restrictions prohibit fans, or the seasons altogether, of Lobo football or men’s or women’s basketball.

The deal would increase its annual obligations by $100,000 for the first four years then $800,000 for the final six years of the deal proposed to run through the 2029-30 fiscal year. He asks that 35% of the donation go to football and 65% go to the general athletic budget.

UNM’s history with naming rights, which all precede Nuñez’s hiring, have had snags in the past, but mostly were handled as “gift agreements” with the UNM Foundation, another entity with a long history of stonewalling media requests for details of large financial donations to the public university.

In 2012, UNM announced Margaret and Turner Branch pledged $1.5 million for naming rights of the field in what was then known as University Stadium. In 2018, it was announced that deal would end with an amended “gift agreement” with the UNM Foundation for a total of $830,000 and “BRANCH FIELD” would be removed from the playing surface.

In December 2014, UNM announced WisePies Pizza had pledged $5 million over 10 years for naming rights to the Pit. That deal ended in 2017 with $800,000 having been paid before Chavez’s Dreamstyle deal with UNM and Learfield took over.

UNM athletics has also had highly-publicized financial issues collecting money from suite holders in the Pit, again claiming the contracts those suite holders in the Pit, a publicly financed facility, weren’t public record.

Nuñez, under pressure from the state auditor, attorney general and Higher Education Department since his hiring to clean up UNM’s financial mess, says he simply can’t entertain any new deal with Chavez until he feels confident the old one is made good.

New Dream Deal?

Dreamstyle Remodeling CEO Larry Chavez has proposed a new 10-year, $7 million naming rights deal to the University of New Mexico as he and the university are at odds over what may still be owed and where his money actually went as part of a past naming rights deal — which was between Chavez and the previous UNM multimedia rights partner.

The payment details of Chavez’s new proposal would include:• $7 million over 10 years through the 2029-30 fiscal/academic year in quarterly payments

• 2020-21 — $400,000
• 2021-22 — $500,000
• 2022-23 — $600,000
• 2023-24 — $700,000
• 2024-25 through 2029-30 (six years) — $800,000/year
• Payments for 2020-21 “will be paid regardless of whether UNM is able to play any basketball or football games due to COVID restrictions and social distancing.”
• There will be $100,000 incentive bonuses for football in the next two seasons should the Lobos have a winning season and for men’s basketball if they make the MWC tournament championship as well as yet-to-be-determined incentives for other sports Chavez hopes to recruit other local businesses to take part in.
• Allocation of the money: 35% to football; 65% to UNM’s general athletics with Dreamstyle asking that UNM provide details of the money being allocated.

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