Naming Rights Gift for FAU Stadium Withdrawn

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

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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  • Bob Markey II
    April 2, 2013

    If you did your homework, you would see that the Sun Belt is a better conference than CUSA! Last year, only two CUSA programs had winning records, while four Sun Belt teams went to bowls. The Sun Belt is much better in baseball and with most of CUSA’s better basketball programs leaving, the two conferences will not be separated by much i basketball. The Sun Belt outdraws CUSA in football attendance – and that lead will only grow with the addition of fan-popular programs such as Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. CUSA is living the final moments of a perceived better image, thanks to programs that have long since left or are leaving that conference.

    • Luke Mashburn
      April 13, 2013

      Thanks for your comment. I wasn’t knocking the Sun Belt by any means. The Sun Belt has played strong football recently and scored big wins last year against SEC schools. I will disagree with you on baseball though. Rice, Southern Miss, and ECU are all strong programs that have a perennial shot at Omaha.

      From a business prospective, C-USA is much stronger than the Sun Belt. On the national level, C-USA teams are much more well known than most Sun Belt programs. This data is a little dated but take a look at revenue for C-USA teams vs the revenue for those in the Sun Belt. That’s the point I was trying to make.

      Revenue and Profit for C-USA:

      Revenue and Profit for Sun Belt:

      • Bob Markey II
        May 20, 2013

        CUSA’s best days are behind it. All (except, maybe, for Tulsa) of its known teams are gone or going soon. The Sun Belt already has established programs that draw many more fans than that of CUSA. The incoming Sun Belt teams have great fan support – something we cannot say for the new CUSA teams. The CUSA projected TV and bowl revenue fails to account for the huge collective yawn that will come from all the great TV markets it acquired when Charlotte plays UTSA or FIU plays ODU. I believe the Sun Belt now has more known programs and definitely the better sports teams (especially in football and baseball). The TV ad bowl numbers are about to plummet in CUSA, while the Sun Belt (if it can hang together) has brighter days ahead.

  • Bob Markey II
    April 2, 2013

    If this donation had truly been a “gift”, as FAU and Geo officials put it, Geo should have continued to offer the $6 million without the necessity of adding the Geo name to the stadium. That would have silenced the critics. The prison company (which gains nothing by having its name on the stadium) would have shown great good will and greatly helped FAU and the controversy would have been over. I don’t believe Geo is pulling out. I think FAU officials (who would have had to be incredibly naive to be “surprised” by the uproar) probably told Geo to back out and allowed the company to pull the “gift” and save face. From a public relations standpoint, FAU’s board handled this situation horribly and is left holding an empty wallet.