A dispute over a naming rights deal for a stadium that the Utah Valley State College owns has created a major league dispute with the Orem Owlz of the Pioneer League, who play at the college-owned stadium.
At issue is the renaming of the stadium to “Brent Brown Stadium”, as part of a 10-year naming rights agreement with Brent Brown, a local car dealer, who has committed $1 million over the life of the agreement. The minor league Orem Owlz, who play at the stadium, say that during the Pioneer League season that the stadium must be named "Home of the Owlz."
Looking into the Owlz's assertion that the naming deal cannot occur during the Pioneer League season is Minor League Baseball, who sent a letter stating that changing of the name might break with Major League Rule 54, which states that renaming of a stadium is considered a “Regulated Transaction” and therefore must be approved by the Pioneer League and Minor League Baseball. MiLB further states that the agreement is also “subject to the review of the Baseball Office of the Commissioner.” (read the letter from Minor League Baseball to the Owlz - PDF).
The dispute has spilled over into the media, where the Owlz threatened to pull the credentials of anyone in news outlets that did not refer to the stadium as "Home of the Owlz". That has caused the Provo Daily Herald and the Deseret Morning News to decide not to cover the minor league team for the remainder of the season by asking reporters to turn in their credentials so they can be turned in to the Owlz front office.
"I don't take well to blackmail," said Randy Wright, executive editor of the Daily Herald said to the Deseret Morning News.
"This is a dispute between the Owlz and UVSC that has nothing to do with us," Wright continued in the Daily Herald. "The Owlz are trying to punish the media for referring to the stadium by its proper name -- Brent Brown Ballpark."
"We won't trade our independence for access to athletic teams or any other news source. We simply don't let our subjects dictate how we report on them."
"What we won't do is send credentialed writers and photographers to Owlz home games while the Owlz's threat is hanging over us," said Dave Schneider, the Morning News' sports editor.
In response, Jeff Katofsky, one of the owners of the Owlz replied, "If you chose to ban yourselves from the Home of the Owlz and deprive your readers of the happenings at the most beautiful and entertaining summer events in Utah Valley, that is your choice," Katofsky wrote by email. "However, I think you are better journalists and businessmen than that."
In the midst of this, Owlz employees tried to cover up a sign over the stadium's press box recognizing Brent and Kim Brown, but a UVSC vice president said college officials made them stop.
While Minor League Baseball sent a letter asking for clarification, upon review, they are backing Utah Valley State College.
"Rule 54 would apply if the college was involved in the ownership of the team, it would all be part of a thing that would need to come to our office," MiLB spokesman, Jim Ferguson, said to the Deseret Morning News. "But they are not involved in the ownership. As I understand they (the Owlz) just rent the ballpark."
The Owlz owners are sticking to their claim that the name should remain “Home of the Owlz” during the Pioneer League season as they consider UVSC partners. The minor league team has paid for upgrades to the facility, and entered a yearlong contract in which the Owlz would collect a fee if they helped line up a naming rights donor.
The naming rights deal with Brent Brown was secured by UVSC without assistance from the Owlz.
The Morning News is seeking copies of the lease agreement through an official government records request.