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Rhinocerous Times Masthead
November 20, 2003

N&R Got Waivers Too

BY JOHN HAMMER
EDITOR

The Eleven County Area News & Record has made quite a to-do about special treatment the Greensboro Coliseum has given the Greensboro Generals hockey team and the Greensboro Prowlers indoor football team, including rent reductions. But the N&R has been oddly silent about the fee adjustments and rent waivers it has received from the Coliseum for events the N&R has sponsored over the past five years.

Evidently, the editorial opinion of TECAN&R is that it is questionable for Coliseum manager Matt Brown to make adjustments to contracts for sporting events, but it is perfectly acceptable for him to make adjustments to contracts for events sponsored by daily newspapers. We wonder if that caveat would extend to weekly newspapers.

Some might assume that the editor was unaware that TECAN&R had received $64,525 in rental waivers since 1999 when the editorial questioning Brown's authority to grant such waivers was written. But even if sloppy journalism was at fault for the original piece, a memo from Brown to Editorial Page Editor Allen Johnson dated Nov. 14 itemizes the rent waivers and the event fee adjustments that TECAN&R has received, so the liberal daily has had plenty of time to write a story about how terrible rent waivers and fee adjustments are for daily newspapers as well as for professional sports teams.

Whatever was known by TECAN&R editors at the time the editorial in the Nov. 12 newspaper was written, they now know that the company that pays their salaries has benefited from Brown having the ability to make contract adjustments on the fly.

The truth is that neither the Generals nor the Prowlers received any rent reductions, rent waivers or any other special consideration on their rent, because neither paid any rent.

According to their contracts, neither team pays rent until they meet certain box office goals, and then the Coliseum receives a percentage of everything over that amount. The problem for both teams and for the Coliseum is that they were not attracting enough fans to reach the threshold where they would start paying rent. Both teams would have been delighted to pay rent because that would have meant they were attracting more fans to their games, but that was not the case.

What the Prowlers and Generals received were adjustments in game expense fees. This is a different category and, as Brown explains it, the adjustments make a lot of sense. The fees are based in part on estimates of how many people will attend an event.

If the Coliseum, for example, had staff on hand to handle a crowd of 10,000 people and only 2,000 showed up for the event, Brown said that the practice in the industry is to reduce the fees that were charged for services that were not needed. Brown said that fees are reduced for a variety of reasons including the client complaining about the quality or quantity of food served at an event. Brown said that 99 percent of the events held at the Coliseum receive some kind of incidental fee adjustment in their final bill. He said that is just the way business is done in the industry and that TECAN&R is well aware of this because it received incidental fee adjustments for the events it has sponsored at the Coliseum in almost every case.

The annual new car show that TECAN&R sponsors usually receives a rental fee waiver, but this year it did not. In his memo to Johnson, Brown wrote, "I don't recall any article or editorial questioning my sole authority, which was granted to me by the City Council, to waive rental fees for the News & Record ."

TECAN&R did receive both incidental fee reductions and rent waivers that, since 1999, add up to $64,525 - a bit more than pocket change.

In the memo to Johnson, Brown asks, "Is it just a mere coincidence that your newspaper is suddenly questioning my authority to waive rental fees or is it a response to or retribution for my not agreeing to waive the News & Record New Car Show rental fees this year?"

The paperwork shows that TECAN&R did have rental fees waived on five occasions in the past four years. Brown explained that the waivers were for the most part trades for advertising. TECAN&R gave the Coliseum advertising and the Coliseum waived rent for the event. This is commonplace in business, but according to Brown it isn't specified in the contract, and Brown certainly didn't go to the Greensboro City Council and ask if he could waive the rent for the job fair sponsored by the News & Record .

It appears that TECAN&R has benefited from the same policies that it is has been extremely critical of the Coliseum extending to the Generals and the Prowlers.