Texas A&M; and Oklahoma State athletics won’t sell sponsorship to contraceptive or feminine hygiene companies — but fossil fuel companies are quite welcome. And, thanks to a new deal between the athletics marketing company both schools hired and Koch Industries, they and 13 other institutions will now be sponsored by one of America’s most controversial fossil fuel behemoths.
Texas A&M; University says its goal is “developing leaders of character dedicated to serving the greater good.” Under its exclusive athletics marketing contract with Learfield Sports, a Plano, Texas-based sports marketing company, the school will receive a guaranteed $3.6 million in rights fees for that effort over the 2015–2016 fiscal year. Oklahoma State University will receive guaranteed royalties of more than $5.5 million from a similar contract. ThinkProgress obtained these and other agreements through public records requests.
Learfield announced last month that it had reached a multi-year deal for an “integrated national sponsorship platform for Koch Industries” with college basketball and football programs on 15 campuses. In the announcement, Koch’s chief marketing officer said, “Like student athletes, our 60,000 U.S. employees understand that hard work and team spirit are fundamental to winning and success.” A Learfield officer expressed excitement that this company would be able to “help Koch Industries dive into the dynamic marketplace of collegiate sports and develop a meaningful program across many states and many schools to help drive home their goals of being able to give back to the college communities and bolster recruitment awareness.”
Learfield has contractual agreements with the Texas A&M; Aggies, the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Cowgirls, and several other prominent public and private college and university athletics departments, to sell sponsorship for their radio, television, and/or home games. The schools receive a guaranteed minimum fee and the company gets to sell advertisements to anyone it chooses — with a few exceptions. Many of these agreements include exclusions for competitors of existing sponsors and alcohol and tobacco products. Learfield’s contracts with Texas A&M; and Oklahoma State contain an identical list of prohibited sponsors and advertisers:
* Gambling (except state authorized lottery and gaming establishments)* Liquor (except malt beverage or wine within radio programming only)* Prophylactics* Erectile dysfunction medication, including, but not limited to, Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra* Feminine hygiene products* Tobacco products* Sexually explicit materials.
Neither university immediately responded to a ThinkProgress inquiry about these exclusions. But noticeably absent from their lists are fossil fuel companies. While students across the nation are increasing pressure on their campuses to divest their fossil fuel holdings, these universities are allowing their names to be linked to a company that has promoted climate change denial and paid tens of millions in civil fines for EPA violations.
Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, told ThinkProgress that he finds it disappointing that Texas A&M; would “align itself with such a disreputable company that has clearly demonstrated itself as an environmental scofflaw” and is contributing to climate change that puts the health of young people at risk. “I think they have a strange list of priorities if they think it’s okay to tie their brand and market to students this very polluting, health damaging, law breaking company, but feminine hygiene products are somehow less acceptable.” He added that he believes there is a disconnect between the student body, which embraced a green fee to promote sustainability, and the administration, which is “tying itself to such a damaging company.”
David Hall, a microbiology major at Oklahoma State, lamented that “Oklahoma in general seems to have trouble with the concept of birth control,” but fossil fuel companies are already well represented on campus. “Take note of our ‘ConocoPhillips OSU Alumni Center,’ which sits in a place of prominence right across the street from our Student Union, or the money ConocoPhillips puts into our Geology Department,” he observed.
The Koch name is already starting to pervade these campuses. According to documents provided by the university to ThinkProgress, at a March Texas A&M; basketball home game, Koch Industries was welcomed as the day’s “game sponsor and a valued partner of Texas A&M; Department of Athletics,” a representative from Koch’s Flint Hills Resources refineries was presented with a commemorative game ball, and thousands of fans were given “12th Man” towels branded with Koch’s logo.