The University of Iowa athletics department has quietly given the company managing its sports marketing efforts a contract extension through 2026 and the right to sell the name of its basketball court in exchange for guaranteed payments totaling $114 million, contract documents show.
Missouri-based Learfield Communications Inc. beat out several other firms in a competitive bidding process in 2006 for a 10-year contract to exclusively broadcast Iowa athletic events on the radio, negotiate corporate sponsorship agreements and generate other advertising and marketing income. Iowa was guaranteed $55.1 million under that deal.
But in a move that escaped public scrutiny, Iowa agreed in November 2009 to extend the contract by 10 years while giving Learfield the ability to sell the naming rights to the court of Carver-Hawkeye Arena and the Outdoor Club at Kinnick Stadium, according to records released to The Associated Press. Mediacom, the cable television and Internet provider, earlier this year secured the naming rights to both spaces for terms that have not been released.
Long-term agreements and contract extensions are common in college sports marketing, but the length of Iowa’s deal seems unusual even by those standards. Indiana, for instance, and Learfield announced this year they reached a 10-year extension through 2021. Wisconsin won approval in 2007 from its governing board for a deal with Learfield through 2019.
Sports marketing has also come under fresh scrutiny in Iowa.
Iowa and Iowa State were heavily criticized over the new Cy-Hawk football rivalry trophy that depicted a farm family gathered around a basket of corn. It was designed under a sponsorship agreement with the Iowa Corn Growers Association, and then scrapped after a backlash from fans.
Iowa last week renewed a partnership with the Iowa Lottery for a football-themed promotion involving a $2 scratch ticket despite criticism from some faculty members and NCAA guidelines discouraging gambling ads. And the Iowa Farm Bureau last month reached a wide-ranging, five-year marketing and licensing agreement with Iowa to promote the “America Needs Farmers” brand at a time when its president also leads Iowa’s governing board.
Iowa has refused to release the terms of those agreements as well as the naming rights deal with Mediacom, arguing they are not subject to public records law because they are between sponsors and Learfield even though the school sets the guidelines for sponsorships.