This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In Logan, the old press box of Romney Stadium has been torn down. In its place rises a new tower that will sport a new name over the Aggie football field: Maverik Stadium.
Anyone with an Internet connection can log onto Utah State's athletic website and watch the multimillion-dollar renovation project on a live feed from multiple angles. But almost no one has been able to see the naming rights agreement between the university and Maverik that kicked the construction into gear.
The Logan Herald Journal is challenging USU's assertion that it has the right to keep the deal confidential in a hearing before the Utah State Records Committee on Thursday morning. The university has denied a request under the Government Records Access and Management Act (commonly known as GRAMA), and the sides didn't come to an agreement in a mediation session last month.
Whatever decision the committee renders either deciding Maverik's deal with a public institution should be out in the open, or siding with USU's argument citing business confidentiality could establish an important precedent as public entities increasingly consider deals with private enterprises.
"I think there should be a public process for when schools or any kind of agency or government start trying to name things," said Joel Campbell, a BYU professor and a board member for the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, who will testify on the Herald Journal's behalf. "The public needs to have a little bit of say, and they have a right to know how these decisions are made."
What is public is that the 21-year partnership gives Maverik naming rights to the stadium and that the new layout will include at least one Maverik concession outlet. When the partnership was announced in April, then-athletic director Scott Barnes said it was a "catalyst" for the long-desired stadium renovation project, which has been estimated to have a $36 million price tag. The project includes a four-story press box and luxury seating structure that will house some of Utah State's biggest donors.
Maverik becomes the new namesake over Dick Romney, who is the longest tenured athletic director, football coach and basketball coach in school history.
But Maverik's financial contribution and any perks it might get out of the deal is under wraps. USU spokesman Tim Vitale said the contract has a business confidentiality agreement and that the school researched the legality of the clause before signing the deal.
"[Maverik] claims that this is part of their advertising, and that there are detailed items of their advertising purchases that they'd want to keep confidential," Vitale said. "We looked into the law itself, and there are parts written in to protect a company like Maverik from disclosing this information in a competitive business environment that might cause them harm."
The Herald Journal has argued in appeal filings, editorials and columns that the dealings of a public university should be transparent. The documents could reveal whether Utah State went through a competitive bidding process or other procedures typically required by state guidelines. The newspaper cited that Boise State released the details of its naming rights deal with Albertson's, although those records were governed by Idaho laws.
Reporter Kevin Opsahl made the original request, and managing editor Charlie McCollum plans to argue the merits of the Herald Journal's case in the appeal. The Salt Lake Tribune wrote an editorial supporting the Herald Journal this week, and the SPJ which include members of The Tribune's staff wrote a letter on the Herald Journal's behalf to the committee.
McCollum said his paper wouldn't normally have the resources to go head-to-head with Utah State in a courtroom, but the records committee appeal process is relatively accessible to anyone.
"We can't allow the university to just close those contracts unchallenged," he said. "We're fortunate it's not that hard to challenge the decision. We're going to go before the committee, present our argument and ask that they decide. We feel we have a good argument, and we're ready to take them on."