I try not to spend too much time on college sports — there are only so many hours in the day, so let’s just say this: Jackson State University wants to build a $200 million domed college football stadium. Yes, Jackson State of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, part of the secondary tier of college football formerly known as Division I-AA. The money is supposed to come from “private donors, sponsorship sales, the Mississippi government and money from selling Veterans Memorial Stadium and the surrounding land,” and (you knew this was coming) it’s not just for college football:
The stadium would not be strictly for football use, either, as Jackson State’s basketball team would play home games there and concerts and other events would take place in the new stadium as well. The plan would be to have the stadium in use for about 200 days a year.
Two hundred days a year, people. For a domed football stadium in a city with 170,000 people and shrinking. About the most you can say for it is that it’d give Jackson State something to be known for other than having city police fire shotguns indiscriminately into a dorm and killing two students.
The controversy over Florida Atlantic University selling its football stadium naming rights to a for-profit prison company being sued for human rights violations just gets better and better: Now it appears that the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) has had one of its corporate relations executives edit the company’s Wikipedia page to eliminate all mentions of mistreatment of prisoners at its facilities:
A section on the Wikipedia page entitled “controversies,” which listed state and federal investigations and lawsuits claiming mistreatment of prisoners in GEO facilities, had disappeared. In its place was a new section, headlined “Quality of Operations,” which duplicated language in company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
This being Wikipedia, the offending “Controversies” section was soon restored. And what exactly did GEO Group want hidden from the public? Some samples:
- “Between 2005 and 2009, at least eight people had died at the Geo Group-operated George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, the state’s only privately run jail. Several of those deaths resulted in lawsuits by family members who say the facility did not provide adequate medical care or proper supervision for offenders. On December 31, 2008, Geo pulled out of operations at this facility, ‘citing underperformance and frequent litigations’ as the reasons.”
- “In November 2010 plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit against the agencies that operate and own the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, saying that the prison authorities allowed abuses and negligence to occur at the facility. The lawsuit states that prison guards engaged in sexual intercourse with the prisoners and smuggled illegal drugs into the facilities, and that prison authorities denied education and medical care. As of that month the prison has about 1,200 prisoners ages 13–22; the lawsuit says that half of the prisoners are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.”
Also, from the Huffington Post article reporting on the Wikipedia mess, we learn that
The company has been at the center of several controversies across the U.S., including at a youth detention center in Texas, which was shut down after state inspectors said they found “filthy” and “unsafe” conditions that included feces on walls. Several riots erupted at a GEO-operated federal prison in west Texas that housed mostly undocumented immigrants in 2008 and 2009, following the death of an epileptic inmate who had been left in isolation despite pleas for help.
All charges that weren’t getting much attention until GEO pulled its one-two punch of trying to buy a higher profile via stadium naming rights, and trying to expunge its record on the web. It’s always possible that five years from now, everyone will have forgotten this and just think of GEO as “that company that has its name on the stadium of some minor Florida college’s football stadium,” but right now the whole deal is testing the proposition that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
I know somebody’s going to ask about the university that sold its stadium naming rights to a for-profit prison company, so: A university has sold its stadium naming rights to a for-profit prison company. Namely Florida Atlantic University, which completed a new $70 million football stadium in 2011, has agreed to rename the building GEO Group Stadium for the next 12 years in exchange for a $6 million, ahem, “philanthropic donation.” GEO Group runs $3 billion worth of prisons in the U.S., Australia, South Africa, and the U.K., and is current being sued for human rights abuses against inmates.
The obvious jokes and student protests aside, the most interesting things here are that Sun Belt Conference naming rights aren’t worth much ($500,000 a year is a pittance compared to pretty much any pro sports naming-rights deal), and that this opens up a whole new realm of companies buying stadium names not so much as a way of getting publicity, but as a way of countering bad publicity. (Recall that GEO changed its name from Wackenhut ten years ago, in part to get away from the stench associated with that company name.) I hope we can now look forward to the Goldman Sachs Dome, Kim Jong-Un Stadium, and the Oscar Pistorius Bowl as people realize the benefits of distancing yourself from accusations of wrongdoing by associating yourself with something more wholesome like … American college football?
The secret cabal that controls college football (officially the B.C.S. Presidential Oversight Committee, but “secret cabal” sounds more exciting) has finally approved a
four-game four-team playoff system for the NCAA football championship, with two semifinal bowl games leading to a championship game that will shift cities each year. And some of the stated reasoning for this is, shall we say, a bit familiar:
The championship game will be held at a neutral site, and cities will have the opportunity to bid to host the event. The game will be played on the first Monday in January, unless it falls on Jan. 1.
“It will be much like the Super Bowl,” said Jim Delany, the Big Ten commissioner. “You’ll be dealing with civic communities, and I think it’ll be a national process and people have to be very energetic about it. I think it’s going to be great for the sport.”
Translation: Wait, the NFL gets cities to fight with each other for the right to spend millions of dollars on hosting the Super Bowl — how can we get in on that game? The new tiered playoff structure may or may not end up fairer than the old BCS system, but if by “great for the sport” Delany means “great for college football’s revenues,” then it’s a fair bet he’ll be proved right.
Lots of news today among the various California locales considering new or renovated NFL stadiums — though actually, “news” might be pushing it. Here, you decide for yourself:
- Majestic Realty, the developers who want to build an NFL stadium in the City of Industry, now say they’ll redesign their stadium to be able to fit World Cup soccer there. “Because we’re building a new stadium, we could incorporate anything FIFA could want,” Majestic stadium architect Dan Meis told the Associated Press. Or to put it another way: This is still vaportecture for now anyway, but we can change it round if you like.
- The Oakland Raiders are talking to city officials about a new stadium on the site of the Oakland Coliseum that would be, according to team CEO Amy Trask, “an anchor for, or a catalyst for, an urban redevelopment that provides economic stimulus for the whole region.” From the sound of it, this is code for “ballpark village,” but Trask didn’t provide specifics.
- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell chimed in that he’s concerned about low attendance at Raiders games, and that he’d like the Raiders and San Francisco 49ers to consider a shared stadium. (Oakland claims it can build an $880 million stadium with no public money, though it apparently doesn’t count property and hotel taxes as public money.) He also said that the NFL needs to do a better job selling the stadium experience compared to staying at home and watching on HD TVs,, and specifically cited how great it is to watch in person at … a Raiders game: “It’s a great experience being there feeling that passion and excitement. It’s something you don’t get at home.” (Make your own joke about how “at home, it’s more crowded.”)
- The city of Pasadena, meanwhile, actually made real news, approving a $152 million renovation of the Rose Bowl to take place over the next three football offseasons. The Pasadena Star News reports that “the project is expected to generate enough revenue to cover the debt service 1.475 times,” though it doesn’t provide details of whether this is via a more lucrative lease with UCLA or higher ticket prices or added tax revenues or what. The project would also be subsidized by the use of federal stimulus bonds, so taxpayers across the U.S. will each be tossing in a few cents for the Rose Bowl’s newly widened access tunnels.
For those of you angered that our folks in Congress meet every so often to discuss the college football championship fiasco, consider that one reason a $163 million renovation of the Rose Bowl is being pushed forward is the possibility of tapping stimulus funds as one reason for doing so. The Rose Bowl with its huge capacity will host this year’s college football championship game on January 7.
A New York Times report on New Year’s Day suggested that Rose Bowl folks fear going in the same direction as the Orange Bowl (the wrecking ball) if something is not done, but Times reporter Billy Witz explains that plans to merge renovations with an NFL team met with a variety of obstacles. Among them, community opposition, with many having recollections of Raider fans converging on LA in strange and intimidating costumes before Al Davis took his ball and moved back to Oakland, as well as concerns that a Soldier Field-style renovation might occur. In that instance, the historic facility lost its landmark status, and rightfully so.
To avoid that problem, the Rose Bowl’s general manager, Darryl Dunn, has brought in Janet Marie Smith, best known for Camden Yards planning and Fenway renovation. As for why stimulus funds might be needed, Dunn indicated that they’d go after donors and look to events, but said, “We’re a stadium….We don’t have an alumni base.” The Rose Bowl currently owes $43 million on earlier renovation projects, so the $163 million renovation, if it moved forward, would push the renovation costs well above the $200 million mark. It is still small compared to the high price of recent professional sport venue construction, but 200 million bucks isn’t chicken feed either.
For those who are outraged by this, consider that you can fire up your TV this evening and watch the GMAC bowl, sponsored by a recipient of federal bailout money, and a few days later enjoy the Citi BCS Championship Game, sponsored, once again sponsored by a beneficiary of bailout funds. The Rose Bowl hopes to sponsor many more BCS games after renovations take place. If taxpayers seem to be funding the college football championship tournament both directly and indirectly, maybe we ought to have a little more of a role in fixing the mess!