Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
The Pit underwent a little remodeling on Friday morning.
Three years into what was supposed to be a 10-year, $10 million naming rights agreement with Albuquerque’s Dreamstyle Remodeling for both the University of New Mexico’s iconic basketball arena and the football stadium across the street, the deal is off.
And, now, so are the signs.
Workers removed all exterior signage Friday – a move both sides agreed should happen. Larry Chavez, owner and CEO of Dreamstyle Remodeling, says he remains hopeful that the two parties can resolve their disagreement over what is owed on the deal that was announced with much fanfare in May 2017.
Chavez said Friday he not only was aware the signs were coming down, but also he agrees with the move while the two sides are trying to resolve the issue. He even mentioned removing the signs in an August email to UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez.
“We’re troubled by a lot of this,” Chavez said. “But we’d still like to help the university, but we’d like to know where the money went (in the last deal) and where any future money would go.”
Both sides agree he has paid at least $1.5 million on the deal, and Chavez has offered a new $7 million proposal to continue a deal.
UNM, through correspondence reviewed by the Journal and interviews from June, believes Chavez still owes an additional $1.9 million, has rejected his new offer and has declined an offer to have the situation heard by a mediator.
On announcing the Dreamstyle deal in May 2017, Chavez wrote an initial check of $1 million he has considered a down payment toward the entirety of the agreement and was to be applied as such, he has said. UNM disagrees, which essentially accounts for $1 million of the $1.9 million difference the two sides now have on what is owed. (Chavez has agreed that as much as $300,000 more could be owed.)
On Friday, the Journal sought comment from UNM President Garnett Stokes, Regent President Doug Brown and Nuñez, each of whom either deferred to another or declined to comment until there is more legal clarification about the university’s stance on potential litigation.
UNM General Counsel Loretta Martinez in a letter to Dreamstyle’s general counsel in July indicates UNM is considering litigation. She stated that Chavez’s new naming rights offer “entirely ignores the $1.9 million Dreamstyle owes for the past three years” and that the offer showed a “pattern of promising something in the future, but failing to come through for UNM’s student-athletes.”
That’s a very different tone than UNM has taken with other high-profile naming rights partners – WisePies Pizza for the Pit and Branch Law Firm for the naming of Branch Field – in recent years. In those cases, they either couldn’t fulfill their originally agreed-upon commitment or otherwise agreed to end their deals for various reasons and parted ways on much more cordial terms.
The deal between Chavez and UNM was signed in April 2017 under former athletic director Paul Krebs, whom Nuñez replaced in August 2017. While the money went to UNM, the contract technically was signed by Dreamstyle and Learfield/IMG, UNM’s former media rights partner.
That media rights deal ended in 2019, which is when Chavez said he had hoped to start a new one with UNM.
Within the first year of the original agreement, Chavez is documented questioning where his donation was going. He wrote to Stokes on Oct. 18, 2018, that there seemed to be discrepancies in where the money was showing up on the athletic department budget, and where she and others in the athletic department were telling him the money was going. Specifically, he said from the start he never wanted his contribution to be used to pay off past debts.
“It is our intent to continue to support UNM athletics; however, we cannot move forward under these conditions,” Chavez wrote to Stokes in October 2018. “We will be happy to sit down and determine how and when a new agreement can be reached in order to move forward.”
UNM maintains it has done everything right by its agreement with Chavez.
“Our intentions from the first day I got here was to assure Dreamstyle that their money was going to go where they desired,” Nuñez told the Journal in June. “Currently, yes, there are some payments that have not been made and we’ve been trying to work through these. Unfortunately, at this point, there is no direction. Our legal group is reviewing this as we speak. We hope to come to a resolution, but at this point, we have to resolve the past before we can move forward.”
Dreamstyle name dropped
Learfield wrote a letter to Chavez on Oct. 24, 2019, indicating a $100,000 payment he had just given the company “will make the agreement dated April 24, 2017, between (Learfield) and Dreamstyle Remodeling void and terminated.”
That, Dreamstyle maintains, ended the deal.
But through an Inspection of Public Records Act request, the Journal received from UNM a document signed by Chavez, Nuñez and a Learfield representative that seems to establish an agreed-upon payment schedule in which all of Chavez’s payments would go directly to UNM beginning in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
On that payment schedule, UNM says Chavez paid just $500,000 of what it feels should have been $1.6 million – a sum UNM acknowledges is in addition to the initial $1 million Chavez paid in 2017.
In her July 31 letter, Martinez notes that Dreamstyle’s position that it owes UNM nothing “ignores the significant marketing and sponsorship benefits (it) has received from UNM since 2017.”
Meanwhile, the social media accounts of the athletic department and all news releases have for some time stopped referencing the arena or stadium with the Dreamstyle name.
An Aug. 13 post on the Twitter account @DreamstyleArena stated “Looking ahead. Looking to the future. Ready for what’s next. #GoLobos” with pictures of the arena. It was deleted later that day and the account has now been rebranded as @ThePitUNM.