by Max Brantley
Here's a little intrigue for you from the world of big business, which is to say intercollegiate athletics.
Last week, a variety of business and community leaders announced RazorRock festivities, a week of events leading up to a River Market pep rally and concert Friday night, Sept. 10 to create excitement before the Razorbacks' War Memorial Stadium football game against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 11.
Something funny has happened to advance publicity on the event.
As you can see from this Democrat-Gazette news article that day, it was announced that Verizon Wireless was sponsoring the event. A Verizon executive was on hand for the announcement, along with UA Athletic Director Jeff Long. From the D-G:
Terms of the Verizon sponsorship were not immediately known. Long said he did not know the value of the deal.
Speaking during the news conference, Verizon South Central Region President Steve Smith called the partnership a "great opportunity" for the company to become more ingrained in the local community.
"Verizon Wireless is very excited to be a part of developing a tradition here in central Arkansas," he said.
But wait .... On the UA website, you will find an official news release that makes no mention of Verizon or regional president Steve Smith. The UA release says the event was held at the "AT&T auditorium" of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. It also lists AT&T as a sponsor of the event. The website created for RazorRock, which once listed Verizon, no longer does.
I gather from a lack of return phone calls from all relevant parties that nobody wants to talk much about this (or are getting their stories straight). I do hope to be getting a response to FOI requests to UA, however, for e-mails related to the little controversy. It's simple. Some civic-minded folks wanted to whip up Hogthusiasm on the opening football week in Little Rock. They put together these events. Verizon agreed to kick in a reported $25,000 to pay for the concert and other expenses. Ed Drilling, who heads AT&T in Arkansas, went bonkers when he saw his competitor linked with the Hogs. AT&T had just forked over big bucks for naming rights at War Memorial Stadium. That entitled them to nothing related to RazorRock, but one player familiar with the saga says AT&T does have a deal with ISP, the private marketing firm that's selling Razorback advertising and branding rights, as exclusive wireless sponsor. I haven't confirmed that yet, but it would explain AT&T's unhappiness (even if local boosters had made an effort to be sure a Verizon tie-in with the Hogs was OK.) Also unresolved is whether AT&T's late-breaking sponsorship includes the $25,000 Verizon had promised. All events are to go on as planned, I'm assured.
UPDATE: Kevin Trainor, who heads public relations for the UA Athletic Department, got back with me and confirmed the general outlines of what I've written.
Trainor confirmed that AT&T, through the Hogs' private sports promotions contractor, has a contractual relationship as the Hogs' sole telecommunications sponsor. Razorrock is not an official Razorback event. As a result, UA had not objected when the local committee producing the event had outlined the sponsors, including Verizon. The UA wants the event to be successful, of course, Trainor said.
So events moved forward. After it was announced, AT&T raised the issue of its official Hog sponsorship. The UA, though not necessarily agreeing it as a legal point, recognized the "potential for conflict," Trainor said. "With a potential conflict, it was decided that it was best that we just don’t go with a presenting sponsor in this case." Trainor said the event would go on as announced. But he said he couldn't speak to whether AT&T would be filling Verizon's role as financial sponsor or if others would make up for whatever was lost from the change of the arrangement.