Time for stadium gifts running out

Lora Pabst

University officials might have to watch more than $37.5 million go down the drain if the state Legislature doesn’t approve an on-campus Gophers stadium soon.

The University has solicited corporate sponsorships and individual donations as a significant part of the stadium funding during the past few years.

A majority of the money is contingent on legislative approval and has deadlines.

The $35 million naming rights agreement with TCF Financial expires Dec. 31 and the $2.5 million deal with Best Buy expires Feb. 15, both before the next regular legislative session begins in March.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the University has not requested the renewal of the agreements with TCF or Best Buy, because officials are still hoping for a special session.

“But certainly by the time Thanksgiving rolls around and the holidays hit, and if nothing has happened, we’ll be in discussion with them,” he said.

Mark Jeter, TCF Bank Minnesota president, expressed similar optimism for a special session this year.

“Our naming rights agreement with the University expires at the end of this year, so we’re still hopeful that the state officials can pull together a special session,” he said.

Jeter said it was too early for TCF to begin discussing a contract renewal.

“We haven’t even given any of that thought, with the University or internally within our own company,” he said.

Best Buy is open to renegotiating or renewing its sponsorship.

Paula Prahl, vice president of public affairs for Best Buy, said the reason the sponsorship was contingent on legislative approval is that the company’s fiscal year ends in February. Best Buy is committed to donating a certain amount of money annually she said, and if it doesn’t give the money to the University this year, it would have to reallocate that money.

“If the stadium decision is not made by the University before the deadline, obviously this gift will expire, but I can’t imagine we won’t re-look the situation,” Prahl said.

Best Buy’s intentions are to revisit the contract on an annual basis, if necessary, but “that’s not a guarantee that it will always be renewed no matter what happens,” she said.

“We have to make sure we’re funding things that are actually going to happen,” she said.

Legislative approval is a major concern for potential sponsors and donors as well.

Pfutzenreuter estimated the University of Minnesota Foundation, the organization that collects donations for the University, already has $15 million to $20 million in individual commitments for the stadium.

Mike Halloran, associate athletics director for development, works closely with the foundation. He said the University won’t get a majority of the money already pledged unless the Legislature and University Board of Regents approve the stadium project.

“The cash isn’t in; the commitment is,” he said.

Once the money is available, the University can draw it out of the foundation as needed for construction costs, Halloran said.

Pfutzenreuter said it is difficult to get corporate sponsorships and individual donations without legislative approval.

Sponsorships and donations are a significant part of the 60 percent the University is proposing to contribute to the estimated $248 million stadium. University officials have asked the Legislature to fund the other 40 percent.

“To get further sizable commitments, we need the state money in place,” Pfutzenreuter said.

Once that happens, the University will have about 80 percent of what it plans to contribute, he said.

Kent Einan, a Stillwater resident and a member of the University’s Recruiter Club for stadium supporters, said he has talked to several people who are reluctant to donate money until the Legislature approves funding a Gophers stadium.

“Many people are reluctant to donate money until they know it’s a done deal,” he said.