OREM Utah Valley State College and the Orem Owlz are playing hardball over the name of the baseball stadium on the southwest corner of the college campus.
UVSC insists the name is the Brent Brown Ballpark, since the Provo auto dealer pledged $1 million to the school earlier this month to secure the naming rights.
The minor league baseball team, on the other hand, wants the stadium called the Home of the Owlz both at its games and in news accounts of the games.
Owlz general manager Zachary Fraser spun off a curveball last Saturday in an e-mail in which he threatened to pull the press credentials of reporters who do not refer to the stadium as the Home of the Owlz.
As a result, the Deseret Morning News and Daily Herald in Provo have chosen not to cover home games.
"I don't take well to blackmail," said Randy Wright, executive editor of the Daily Herald.
Readers of the Morning News will get scores and game summaries provided to the paper from other sources.
Readers still will see stories produced by the Deseret Morning News about players and coaches because they work for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the Owlz cannot block access to them.
"What we won't do is send credentialed writers and photographers to Owlz home games while the Owlz's threat is hanging over us," said Dave Schneider, the Morning News' sports editor.
Schneider said bowing to the threat would give the Owlz editorial control over the newspaper's content.
Jeff Katofsky, one of the owners of the baseball team, insisted in an e-mail to Schneider on Wednesday that the park be called the Home of the Owlz during Owlz games and said the Owlz have no legal or contractual obligation to call it the Brown Ballpark.
"If you chose to ban yourselves from the Home of the Owlz and deprive your readers of the happenings at the most beautiful and entertaining summer events in Utah Valley, that is your choice," Katofsky wrote. "However, I think you are better journalists and businessmen than that."
The Daily Herald has a sponsorship agreement with the Owlz in which free advertising is traded for tickets and banners advertising the Herald at games.
Herald publisher Craig Dennis said he doesn't have a plan for how to proceed with this sponsorship now that the paper will discontinue covering games.
"This all happened very quickly," he said.
Dennis said he is disappointed the team's management has not tried to talk to him.
"I would think they would be wanting to reach out to me at some point on this," Dennis said.
Katofsky and other Owlz officials have insisted that Minor League Baseball Rule 54 prohibits them from allowing the stadium to be called Brown Ballpark because the name wasn't approved by the commissioner.
That's why the Owlz employees have reminded sports reporters in e-mail and in person to call the stadium the Home of the Owlz in stories, they said.
Last week, Owlz employees tried to cover up a sign over the stadium's press box recognizing Brent and Kim Brown, but a UVSC vice president said college officials made them stop.
In an interview with the Morning News on Thursday, a Minor League Baseball spokesman said Rule 54 doesn't come into play.
"Rule 54 would apply if the college was involved in the ownership of the team, it would all be part of a thing that would need to come to our office," the spokesman, Jim Ferguson, said. "But they are not involved in the ownership. As I understand they (the Owlz) just rent the ballpark."
Jason Taylor, another owner of the Owlz, said he considers the Owlz not just renters but partners with UVSC since the Owlz draw larger crowds than the college's teams and has helped put the ballpark on the map as a Utah County landmark.
The Owlz paid for upgrades when the stadium was under construction, such as seats with backs and an enhanced scoreboard.
The Owlz and UVSC even had a yearlong contract in which the Owlz would get some money if they helped line up a naming rights donor.
"It really was a contract where they recommended to us to use a company called Sponsor IQ to go out and find a naming rights sponsor," said Val Hale, a UVSC vice president. "We signed a one-year contract with that company, and if that company would have been successful ... the Owlz would have benefitted financially from that."
But the contract expired in February one month after the Browns began talking to UVSC. The college secured the donor without the Owlz.Hale said the college attorney has advised him to not provide a copy of the contract and other documents relating to the stadium naming dispute unless the Morning News seeks the documents through an official government records request, which the newspaper has done.