War Memorial sign deal disclosed | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, June 24, 2010

War Memorial sign deal disclosed

Posted By on Thu, Jun 24, 2010 at 1:17 PM

wmshalftime.jpg

AT&T has agreed to waive secrecy on the deal it struck with the War Memorial Stadium Commission on naming rights for the football field, which now carries the AT&T brand on the 20-yardlines.

Commission Chairman Gary Smith of Little Rock said the deal could be worth more than $1.8 million to the stadium over 10 years.

It breaks down this way:

* $175,000 a year for the first five years.

* $179,375 the sixth year if AT&T renews its option for five more years and then a 2.5 percent increase in each of the next four years.

* A nine-month notice requirement if AT&T is not going to renew after five years and a year-notice if it is not going to renew after 10.

* The stadium will pay $50,000 to install the signage, reducing the annual value of the first five years to $165,000, about $500 more than what the commission's independent consultant had said the deal should be worth.

Smith said this was the biggest naming rights deal in the stadium's 62-year history. By comparison, Regions Bank pays $25,000 a year for its ad on the stadium scoreboards.

"We felt like we got a very good deal, particularly in these economic times because people are cutting back on their advertising budgets," Smith said. He added, "Eddie Drilling [who leads AT&T in Arkansas] really went to bat. He wanted it for his company in Arkansas and he stayed after it. It was a hard fought battle for him to get funds together to do the sponsorship."

AT&T wanted the terms kept confidential because it bids elsewhere for such sponsorships. The contract on the deal acknowledged that the information could be sought under the Freedom of Information Act because the stadium is public property run by a gubernatorially appointed commission. The contract provided that AT&T would be notified if the information was sought (I and others requested it yesterday) and would be given a chance to fight the disclosure in court. Other endorsement deals in Little Rock have been made public previously, notably Alltel's $800,000 payment over 10 years for naming rights of what is now the Verizon Arena.

Public agencies are in a bind when they need money and a contributor steps forward and asks for anonymity. I appreciate the dilemma. But I don't think public agencies have any choice but to do the public's business in public. I said so yesterday, prompting a call from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who eventually said he thought this deal should have been disclosed. This happened to run somewhat counter to the legal advice a member of his staff had given the Stadium Commission in drawing up the contract.

All's well that ends well.

A.G. McDaniel comments:

"I want to applaud the efforts of the War Memorial Stadium Commission and AT&T for executing an outstanding agreement that is good for all concerned. AT&T is a key corporate citizen in Arkansas, and I appreciate its dedication to War Memorial Stadium, which is critical to the spirit and economy of Arkansas.

"I also thank Gary Smith and the other volunteer members of the War Memorial Stadium Commission for their dedication and for doing a great job. The Commissioners made it clear in the contract that they would always defer to and follow Arkansas's Freedom of Information Act. They did a very good job of ensuring that their actions were consistent with the terms of their agreement and with the law. I personally thank AT&T and the commissioners for erring on the side of transparency and public accountability."

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