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Editorial: A win-win at Pit

University of New Mexico graduate and successful local entrepreneur Larry Chavez is making an indelible mark on UNM athletics, and on the university and community in general, by inking a generous $10 million, 10-year naming-rights agreement with the university. And he’s offering up a lesson on transparency and accountability to university and business officials at the same time.

Chavez will get the name of his highly successful Dreamstyle Remodeling on the Pit and the football stadium across the street, along with several well-deserved perks. Meanwhile, UNM gets a hefty boost to its struggling financial picture, and the public gets full disclosure about the deal because – unlike university officials and the company that licenses UNM’s naming rights – Chavez provided a copy of the contract, complete with how much of his annual payment goes to which UNM programs.

UNM and Learfield Vice President Kyle Denzel could learn something from that. (Learfield is the Texas-based parent company of Lobo Sports Properties and will get about $1 million.) A good deal for the university and the businesses it is affiliated with is nothing to hide.

According to the contract, Learfield will get a total $1 million, athletics about $8 million and other UNM programs up to another $1 million.

Chavez, who said his first job as a youngster was selling sodas at the football stadium, was a big Lobo supporter long before he handed his initial $1 million check over to athletics director Paul Krebs on Wednesday. And he made the check out to UNM on purpose, not the naming-rights company, because “I wasn’t going to write a check to anybody else. I want to write a check to UNM.”

“It’s very special to our company – the people in our company who have made this happen,” Chavez says. He and his wife started Dreamstyle Remodeling, a remodeler and installer of name-brand home products, in 1989 using her credit card. They now operate in five states, have nearly 500 employees and recorded $80 million in revenues last year.

Chavez’s deal replaces a 10-year, $5 million name deal that the university had with WisePies, a locally based pizza restaurant chain, regarding the Pit. That deal netted UNM $800,000 after about 2 1/2 years.

The new deal is much more lucrative for UNM. Under the former deal, UNM only received $100,000 the first two years, with the annual payment bumping to $600,000 late last year. DreamStyle is paying $1 million a year from the start.

UNM officials said they approached WisePies owner Steve Chavez (no-relation to Larry) about ending the partnership for the Pit after the Dreamstyles proposal came up. Larry Chavez said UNM approached him about naming rights for the Pit deal after he expressed interest in the football stadium.

As good as the new deal is for UNM athletics, Chavez went even further, pledging up to $1 million to support other UNM entities, including initial recipients UNM Children’s Hospital, Anderson School of Management and Popejoy Hall. Chavez also led the recent $250,000 effort to remodel the Lobo football team offices, contributing $150,000 in materials and labor, while other private donors paid the rest.

It’s a fresh start for UNM athletics, which, besides the new name on the Pit and stadium, is introducing a new basketball coach, Paul Wier, who has vowed to earn the right to wear the signature cherry red blazer courtside and will make a base salary of $625K, far below what his two predecessors made. Given the financial boost, it’s past time for Lobo athletics to live within its means, the way they do things down the highway at Weir’s last job, New Mexico State University.

Sure, die-hard purists say Lobo basketball will always be in the Pit, no matter what the sign outside reads. But college sports is big business, and the naming-rights deal is another means to get it to pay its own way.

If UNM were to paint a picture of the ideal benefactor, it would likely look a lot like Larry Chavez. Native New Mexican, UNM graduate, successful businessman, and with a serious commitment to his community. Sure, big national corporations can bring in lots of cash for a naming-rights deal, but a local guy who’s a die-hard Lobo fan brings an awful lot to the UNM table in addition to his $10 million.

Thanks, Larry – for the donation and the transparency surrounding it. If UNM takes the lessons involved in the deal to heart, it should be a win-win for all involved.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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