U athletics continues partnership with marketing firm Learfield Sports

The contract gives Learfield Sports rights to sell the signs at the stadium.

The University athletics department has agreed to a 15-year, $114 million contract extension with marketing firm Learfield Sports that gives the company exclusive rights to sell remaining signs and corporate sponsorships at TCF Bank Stadium.

The deal, approved by the Board of Regents on Friday, also acts as a continuation of other non-TCF Bank stadium-related rights that were set to expire in 2013.

Learfield already has rights to sell suites at Williams Arena and advertisements on the athletic department’s official Web site, among other things.

The revenue from the deal will go directly into the athletics department’s operating costs budget, and the University keeps stadium naming rights.

Because the deal extends the current contract, the University didn’t go through a bidding process, which initially raised potential red flags for University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter.

A third-party firm, Conventions, Sports and Leisure International, reviewed the contract at Pfutzenreuter’s request to ensure the University was getting a fair shake, he said.

The company found the deal favorable for the University by comparing it to others across the country, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The University could receive the second-highest annual payment of seven other Division I schools studied, according to the company’s findings, which satisfied University officials.

“I’m very comfortable with the contract,” Pfutzenreuter said.

Because of the nature of marketing and possible market changes, the University can renegotiate the deal’s terms in 2016, he said.

Although there was no bidding process, Learfield Sports President Greg Brown said other companies had a chance to make their cases in 2006 when the University got approval to build the stadium.

Brown also said the University knows what it’s doing when it comes to contracts, and that its officials understand the importance of the stakes at hand.

“These guys are smart and they’ve done their research,” Brown said.

Because TCF Bank Stadium is solely affiliated with the University, Learfield won’t have to adapt its marketing to accommodate multiple teams and events like it did at the Metrodome, Brown said.

In addition to the business-side benefits of the deal, Brown said one of the most overlooked parts of the contract is the “opportunity to continue working with the people.”

“We’re really excited about the leadership of the program,” he said.

Associate Athletics Director Tom Wistrcill, one of the University’s lead negotiators in the contract process, said Learfield Sports’ performance in its other marketing duties for the University made it an easy choice.

“We didn’t really explore those other opportunities,” Wistrcill said of the other three companies besides Learfield Sports interested two or three years ago.

Wistrcill worked at Badgers Sports Properties, a partner of Learfield Sports, before coming to the University, but said that connection had little impact on the deal.

“I’m very familiar with the people at Learfield, and that’s the only impact it had,” he said.

Athletics officials have addressed the potential conflict of interest before, and Pfutzenreuter wasn’t worried about Wistrcill’s connection during contract negotiations.

“I think he knows who signs his paychecks,” he said.