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UNM comment on facility naming rights raises questions

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — University of New Mexico’s athletics director says he is negotiating a potential “seven-figure” naming rights deal for a school athletic facility, but he has not identified the donor – or the venue.

Paul Krebs’ comments to the Journal earlier this week have raised questions about whether the deal might mean renaming WisePies Arena aka the Pit, already the center of a high-profile and heavily scrutinized sponsorship deal.

Brad Hutchins, UNM’s deputy athletic director for external operations, did not specifically answer a Journal question about whether the deal could impact the WisePies deal but did indicate in an email that the WisePies naming rights agreement still stands.

“Nothing has changed with the agreement between WisePies Pizza & Salad and the University of New Mexico,” he wrote.

A WisePies spokeswoman echoed that statement in her own email, adding that there are no discussions about altering the agreement.

Albuquerque’s WisePies Franchise Services signed a $5 million, 10-year gift agreement with the University of New Mexico Foundation in 2014 to secure naming rights to the school’s basketball arena. The agreement called for WisePies to make two installments of $100,000 followed by $600,000 payments each year from 2016-2023.

Hutchins, Season Elliott of WisePies and the foundation’s spokeswoman all said Thursday that the company is current on its gift payments.

But speculation about the deal – particularly WisePies’ ability to meet the financial terms – has abounded. The pizza company’s serial tax trouble, and the tax turmoil of former co-owner Mike Baird, heightened doubt.

Freelance journalist Daniel Libit sought documentary proof of WisePies’ payments from the foundation, which it denied by citing its status as a non-public entity. That prompted Libit in March to sue it and UNM’s Board of Regents for alleged violations of the state’s public records law.

Neither the foundation nor Elliott has provided to the Journal documents proving WisePies made the payments.

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