An ultimatum to the press backfires on rookie league baseball team Orem Owlz.
It's a three-year old baseball stadium still considered "sparkling" by local scribes. But for two weeks this summer, Brent Brown Ballpark, on the campus of Utah Valley State College in Orem, Utah, got no ink at all. Neither did the part-time tenant Orem Owlz, the Pioneer League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, save for box scores and league standings.
That's because Owlz ownership played hardball with area media outlets over the park's name, which officially changed June 13 to reflect a $1 million sponsorship commitment to the university made by a local car dealer. Last season, the park went by two names in the press - Wolverines Stadium when UVSC was in action, and Home of the Owlz when the rookie league team took the field. But on June 23, an e-mail ultimatum went out from the Owlz front office declaring that all media refusing to refer to the park only as "Home of the Owlz" in team coverage would be denied future access to the team. The organization felt slighted that it had not been consulted during naming rights negotiations and feared potential six-figure fines from Minor League Baseball for playing in a park under a sponsorship agreement that MiLB had not approved in advance.
The strategy backfired. Not only were MiLB lawyers okay with the deal, the absence of Owlz coverage served only to hurt the team in the eyes of its parent club (which had greater difficulty keeping tabs on prospects) and the public (whose inability to follow the team in print led to a noticeable turnstile slowdown during the seven home games affected by the media lockout). While the thin sports staff at the Daily Herald in nearby Provo welcomed some summer nights off - they had, in fact, turned in their credentials upon learning of the ultimatum - at least one reporter was happy to return to the Owlz beat after the team announced July 9 that references in copy to Brent Brown Ballpark would not lead to banishment. "There are some really cool stories out there," says the Herald's Jason Franchuk, who was eager to trade in his coverage of the naming stalemate for more traditional reportage of the team. "It's a nice park and a nice way to spend a night - even while working."
Meanwhile, the Owlz continued to work their own stadium name angle into web site copy and team press releases. And ownership, which has invested some $800,000 in stadium upgrades over the past three years, reportedly hasn't ruled out pursuit of a separate naming agreement for the three months it calls Brent Brown Ballpark home (of the Owlz).