Larry Chavez made one thing clear Wednesday: He bleeds Lobo cherry red.
The New Mexico native and owner of Dreamstyle Remodeling, Inc., pledged $10 million over 10 years to the university on Wednesday in exchange for the naming rights to both the football stadium and basketball arena — now dubbed Dreamstyle Stadium and Dreamstyle Arena. (Don’t worry — he knows the longtime unofficial moniker of the Pit isn’t going anywhere.)
But, even if not by his choice, not all that money will stay with the university he loves.
Though the deal was negotiated and secured locally by UNM Foundation employee Jalen Dominguez on behalf of UNM athletics, 10 percent of the $10 million donation — the largest ever for Lobo athletics — will go each year to Learfield Communications, Inc., a company based in Plano, Texas.
Learfield is the parent company of Lobo Sports Properties, which owns marketing rights for UNM.
“We’re supporting UNM, and we know Lobo Sports Properties is a key part; they support UNM very heavily, and we appreciate that,” Chavez said. “But from a symbolic standpoint, we’re supporting UNM and we want it to be clear.”
So clear, in fact, Chavez wrote his initial $1 million check for the deal on Wednesday out to “University of New Mexico” despite the contract being with Lobo Sports Properties.
“I wasn’t going to write a check to anybody else,” Chavez said. “I want to write a check to UNM.”
When the Journal asked UNM athletic director Paul Krebs for a copy of Chavez’s contract, Krebs said to ask Learfield. After Wednesday’s press conference announcing the naming rights agreement, Learfield Vice President Kyle Denzel approached a Journal reporter and said, “I’ll save you some time. That’s not something we’d release to you.”
The Journal put in an Inspection of Public Records Act request with UNM for the contract anyway, despite Krebs and the office of UNM Acting President Chaouki Abdallah saying it isn’t a public record.
“This contract is between two private entities,” said UNM spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair. “Public documents are public records, and UNM complies with all public records requirement and laws.”
Krebs added: “I feel we’ve laid out the terms of the deal. We’ve spelled out all the finances. You’ve got all that. I can’t speak for Learfield’s business model for what they release and what they don’t release.”
Despite UNM and Learfield’s decision to keep the contract private, Chavez felt that was unnecessary and gave the Journal a copy himself. It showed details UNM had not mentioned in a press release.
Included in that was how the money will be doled out: before Learfield’s cut, UNM football gets $400,000 of Wednesday’s check and $600,000 goes to “general athletics”; the next two years will be $250,000 annually to football and $550,000 to the rest of the department; and the last eight years will be $200,000 to football and $600,000 to the rest of the department. There is also $1 million going to non-athletic entities at UNM over the lifetime of the deal.
According to a 2013 contract, Learfield will give UNM $4.8 million this fiscal year in exchange for marketing, broadcast and even naming rights deals. Learfield keeps whatever it makes off of those deals.
“Learfield owns a lot of our marketing rights,” Krebs said. “So when we’re giving Larry, in addition to putting his name on the signs, if we’re giving him a suite in football or he’s buying airtime on radio or TV, if he’s getting signage up in the building, Learfield owns those rights.”
The 2014 deal with WisePies, the previous naming rights holder for the Pit, was not treated the same. That deal was considered a “gift agreement” with the UNM Foundation and no portion of the payments went to Learfield. And UNM handed out a copy of that contract at the introductory press conference.
Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Peter St. Cyr says it’s troubling when public entities contract out business with private companies and won’t disclose details.
“Private businesses don’t get to establish state law here,” St. Cyr said. “… It’s time for public servants to adopt the idea behind public access. (They) should make it a priority that their first approach when getting a request for inspection of a document is figuring out the fastest way to put it out and shift away from the current mind set, which is to figure out how they can block the document. That is too often the case now.”