Monday, June 25, 2007

Orem Owlz refuse to play ball when it comes to stadium naming rights

Opening Day for the Orem Owlz' third season at UVSC was just last week, and it appears that tensions between the minor league baseball team and their campus landlords are once again heating up.

Two weeks ago when it was announced that local auto dealer Brent Brown was securing naming rights for the school's baseball stadium, the Owlz' general manager Zach Fraser told local media outlets that the team would still refer to the stadium as "Home of the Owlz" and not "Brent Brown Ballpark".

In an article over the weekend The Deseret Morning News tried to get to the bottom of this inconsistency.

UVSC, Owlz playing stadium name games (Deseret Morning News)

This is not the first time the team and the college have faced off against each other over their 10-year lease agreement. From the beginning in 2005 the two have maintained a tempestuous relationship to say the least.

At the heart of this controversy is the fact that UVSC is one of the few colleges in the country that provides facilities to a professional baseball team. In doing so the grounds at the stadium must be maintained at a level far above what is found at your average Division I school. This maintenance costs big bucks, and if it isn't up to snuff come opening day minor league baseball can shut the facility down. The team's affiliate, The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (no stranger to the politics of sports naming), also throws a fit when their valuable prospects play on an unsafe surface.

For those who have been out to a ballgame for the past two years, you know that the grounds crew does an amazing job night in and night out. But the cost of paying the crew falls on the college, and from what The Pipeline has heard from Owlz' management that cost gobbles up most of the lease payments the team makes.

A member of the Owlz front office also told The Pipeline that when the team met with Bill Sederburg a few months ago, the college president started off the meeting by saying "So when can we get you guys out of here?"

The naming rights issue was already particularly sticky for the team and the college, as the two entities had met together several times to try and secure a sponsor when Parkway Crossing fell through. The team had offered to find a corporate sponsor in exchange for a percentage of the deal, and apparently the school was not happy with the offer. Fraser refers in the Des News piece to a signed document that says that UVSC would work with the team to secure naming rights. Fraser insits that this hasn't happened with the Brent Brown deal.

Adding to the complexity of the issue is the fact that the campus will be hosting yet another professional team come this fall when the Utah Flash, the NBA Developmental League affiliate of the Utah Jazz, will play their home games at the McKay Events Center. Because the arena is a partnership with the county, it is not certain if UVSC will see any revenue from the venture.

UVSC's athletic director Mike "AD for Life" Jacobsen was quick to criticize the school's decision to approve the Flash deal, saying that it make scheduling a nightmare and hurt UVSC athletics. Jacobsen's comments came just days after the team announced their new deal, and word around the campfire was that Flash owner Brandt Andersen was none too pleased.

It wouldn't surprise The Pipeline one bit if the Owlz and the Flash weren't chomping at the bit to get off campus. While that might make a few people like Jacobsen happy now, it is important to remember that the lease agreement with the Owlz helps pay the county bond that purchased the stadium. If there is not a tenant helping to make those bond payments than the remainder will be paid by student fees.

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