After a series of protests, many of which notably included students, FAU and the GEO Group have parted ways. According to this university press release, GEO Group, a company that runs prisons, withdrew its naming rights gift of $6 million dollars over 12 years. While no official reason was given in the release, the decision to withdraw the gift was obviously the result of the protests.
When first announced in February the deal was called “unconventional” by many. Vocal observers, include some i members and the aforementioned students, were appalled by the thought of a for-profit prison group’s name being on a stadium. Many of the concerns were based on claims of human rights violations in GEO Group run prisons. As a result, the admittedly witty nickname of “Owlkatraz” surfaced. Some objectors raised concerns about sports marketing in America. This New York Times article seems to imply that those who own stadiums will slap any name on them for the right amount of money.
There was always a deeper sports marketing issue with this partnership. Naming rights deals are similar in purpose to most other types of advertising: create increased exposure and keep the company’s name in front of consumers. But the GEO group does not have traditional consumers. Its revenue comes from public municipalities that own prisons. While the company more than likely could actually benefit from the increase in exposure, it is unlikely that it would have received widespread, national exposure from a 30,000 seat stadium that is home to a Sun Belt football program. (To be fair, FAU is moving to Conference-USA next year.)
It seems that this naming rights deal truly was a gift. The CEO of GEO Group, George Zoley, received two degrees from the university. It appears that this was an ill-conceived gift that started with good intentions. Unfortunately for both the company and university, what started out as an alumnus attempting to help out his alma mater’s athletic department spiraled into a national news story.
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