War Memorial strikes secret deal with AT&T UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

War Memorial strikes secret deal with AT&T UPDATE



SOLD: To AT&T in secret deal.
  • SOLD: To AT&T in secret deal.

The War Memorial Stadium Commission — a publicly appointed state board — today announced it had sold naming rights to the football field in the stadium — a publicly owned facility — to AT&T.

The Commission declined to say how much it had sold the rights for. Gary Smith, chairman of the stadium commission, said he was confident from an appraisal by outsiders that the Commission got a good deal. He said AT&T insisted on secrecy of the amount it paid for competitive reasons. Smith said the Commission's attorney, from the attorney general's office, had defended secrecy of the arrangement for competitive interests of both the stadium and AT&T.

The state is relying on a Freedom of Information Act clause that provides an exemption on files, which, "if disclosed, would give advantage to competitors or bidders." The bidding is over. There are no competitors for this important privilege for use of a public enterprise for a private endeavor. It's wrong. It's unaccountable. It stinks. The exception exists to insure fair bidding, not to close information for all time.

But matters of Hogdom have always been held to a special privileged standard.

AT&T will get to put its name in block letters on both 20-yard lines. It will supplant the Bank of America sign outside the stadium. It will get other valuable considerations in a five-year deal. You, an owner of this stadium, will get the advertising. You just don't get to know what you were paid for it.

Consider this a Freedom of Information request for the contract, Stadium Commission. Shame on each of you, and the a.g.'s office, for going along. Other commissioners are Brenda Scisson, Donnie Cook, Jim Hill, Charlie Holt, Nancy Monroe, Kevin Crass and Dorance Damron.

UPDATE: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said his office's advice was not something in which he had had a hand and, at first blush, was not inclined to support the notion that the price paid for the advertising benefit should "forever" be secret. He said it appeared to be a policy decision that he didn't support, but he would inquire further before saying something definitive.

Note: There is not a dime's worth of functional difference in the Commission's argument for secrecy here and an argument by, say, the University of Arkansas, that it never had to disclose the successful bidder for a dormitory construction project because to do so would harm the contractor's competitive advantage and the university's interests in future contracts. This is stupid bidnessman-deference-to-bidnessman. It is not how you conduct the public's business.

UPDATE II: I now have this formal statement from Attorney General McDaniel, on the side of the public's right to know:

My office advised the War Memorial Stadium Commission to include a provision in its contract with AT&T that the contract may be public, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. From a policy standpoint, I believe the people of Arkansas have a strong interest in knowing the terms of this contract, and I believe it should be revealed to the public. I have not talked to the commissioners about their justification for withholding details in this matter, but as a general rule I do not support conducting the public's business in secret.

Of course, the Commission is my client and my office will represent it in court with regard to any decision it makes about releasing information to the public.


LITTLE ROCK, ARK., June 23, 2010 — The War Memorial Stadium Commission announced today that it had reached a sponsorship agreement with AT&T to name the playing surface “AT&T Field.” The new name and on-field emblems were revealed today during a news conference hosted by the commission at War Memorial Stadium.
War Memorial Stadium, constructed in 1948 to honor Arkansans who gave their lives in service of the country in World Wars I and II, retains its name and continues to be a tribute to all Arkansans who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“As members of the War Memorial Stadium Commission, our goal is to honor our veterans and our citizens by providing a first-class venue for sports, concerts and other events,” said Stadium Commission Chairman Gary Smith. “This partnership with AT&T — one of the world’s most respected and recognized brands — will enable us to attain that standard of excellence for years to come.”
“AT&T is honored for the opportunity to have our name on the field in War Memorial Stadium,” said AT&T Arkansas State President Ed Drilling. “This is a place where I and many of our employees and their families have cheered on our favorite sports teams and entertainers since childhood, and to be able to be a partner in its future is a genuine source of pride. We know many more memories will be made on that field for years to come.”
While a sponsorship of stadiums and facilities is becoming more common across the nation, this is the first time the field at War Memorial Stadium has been separately named. Under the agreement between the commission and AT&T, the field will be known at AT&T Field for at least five years; in addition to on-field emblems, new AT&T signage will be installed inside the stadium this summer.
With funding from the state, sponsorships, contributions and operations revenue, the War Memorial Stadium Commission has been able to make many renovations and improvements in recent years. Those have included new field turf, a new press and club seating facility, new digital video scoreboards, a new digital sound system, and upgrades to the interior concourses, lighting and stadium exterior.
Upcoming events to be hosted by War Memorial include University of Arkansas Razorback football games against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 11 and Louisiana State University on Nov. 27, and the Delta Classic featuring the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Grambling State University on Oct. 30, plus numerous high school football games and state playoffs.
“As one of 257,625 veterans in Arkansas, we have proudly witnessed the rejuvenation of War Memorial Stadium, and we appreciate the commitment of the state, the commissioners and supporters to modernize and upgrade this historic facility,” said David Fletcher, Director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs.
In conjunction with today’s announcement of the War Memorial Stadium sponsorship, AT&T also said the company is creating a new scholarship program to honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipients from Arkansas. Details on the program and eligibility requirements will be announced in time to award the first scholarship for the 2011-12 academic year.
“AT&T will work with the War Memorial Stadium Commission, the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Arkansas Community Foundation to pay tribute to these Arkansas heroes by helping state students achieve their dream of a higher education,” Drilling said.
AT&T is a provider of wireless service statewide, provides local phone service through more than 100 exchanges, and has about 2,600 employees statewide. The company has invested $450 million in its Arkansas networks in the past three years. AT&T operates nearly 30 AT&T-owned retail locations in Arkansas, while AT&T
products and services are also available at a number of other authorized dealers and national retail locations in the state.

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