Lewisville Independent School District is currently in negotiations to use the Dallas Cowboys’ Frisco Star facility as a venue for high school graduations, but it’s not the only educational institution the team has been talking to. The City of Frisco owns the $1.5 billion facility and leases it to the Cowboys through Blue Star Stadium Inc. for $100,000 annually. It has the facility on reserve for Frisco ISD football games and graduations. The University of North Texas signed on for an exclusive advertising deal with the team.
Under the Texas Public Information Act, documentation of deals made with public institutions are public record, with some exceptions. The Lewisville Texan Journal has made several public information requests about these documents with mixed results.
FISD released the city’s August 2013 lease agreement with the Cowboys in full. UNT has challenged its request for information, saying that its contract with the Cowboys is proprietary information. LISD challenged its request as well, saying that releasing the information would give a competitive advantage to other bidders and negotiation communications are protected from public information.
In Frisco’s deal, the Cowboys pay a base rent of $100,000 per year to lease the facility for five years. After that, they will pay $2 per the average number of paying attendees the facility brings in, but never less than $100,000 per year. Frisco ISD, which kicked in $30 million of the building’s cost, has Thursday and Friday nights around home football games reserved and the first weekend in June reserved for graduations, with FISD paying the operating costs of the events.
UNT signed a deal in August that provides a significant advertising presence inside the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium and The Star as well as several internship opportunities for students, but the Cowboys organization has taken measures to keep the terms, including what UNT might be paying for the deal, quiet. The Board of Regents are required to approve any deal worth more than $1 million according to the Denton Record Chronicle, and they voted to give authority to negotiate this contract in May. The Lewisville Texan Journal filed an open records request for the contract. UNT sent the request to the attorney general’s office requesting an exception be made so they could withhold the contract. University president Neal Smatresk said he is confident that the school got a good deal becoming the official school of one of the biggest brands in the world, but could not discuss the terms.
“I can’t talk about it, and that is not my choice,” he said. “The Cowboys consider this agreement a proprietary agreement, kind of the equivalent of what you’d call a trade secret. They feel that revealing the terms of the contract may impact their ability to negotiate other contracts.”
Smatresk said it was the Cowboys’ prerogative to release or not release the contract until the university gets further information from the attorney general.
Cowboys representatives deferred all questions to the university.
Potential Lewisville deal
As Lewisville ISD continues to seek an agreement with the Cowboys to use the Star for their own schools’ 2017 graduation, residents may not get to see the terms of that deal. During an August school board meeting, a $90,000 per year deal to host LISD’s graduations at The Star was taken off the consent agenda. Superintendent Kevin Rogers said at the time that he was disappointed the deal couldn’t get done then and there, but there were more details to work out.
An open records request procured emails from June between Rogers and school board members Kronda Thimesch and Trisha Sheffield bringing up the idea. Those communications indicated that other school districts were interested, but other communications have been sent to the attorney general with the request that they be denied, since they are part of ongoing negotiations or consist of advice, opinions or recommendations on policymaking matters. The request to except the emails mentions that several other school districts are competing for The Star as a graduation site.
The attorney general’s office has 45 business days from Sept. 15 to respond to the Lewisville request and 45 business days from Sept. 8 to respond to the UNT request.