College sports programs won't sell sponsorships for tampons -- but Koch Industries is totally cool

Several universities have made lucrative deals with the fossil fuel corporation, despite student resistance

Published April 14, 2015 7:55PM (EDT)

David Koch                  (AP/Mark Lennihan)
David Koch (AP/Mark Lennihan)

The top three highest paid state employees in Texas are university football coaches. Each makes well over $2 million annually. This is because college athletics programs are extraordinarily lucrative, and can bring in massive sponsorship revenue. That's especially true when sponsorships come from companies such as Koch Industries, which recently partnered with the marketing company that represents the massive athletics programs at Texas A&M and Oklahoma State Universities, as well as over a dozen other schools.

A Think Progress investigation of Texas A&M and Oklahoma State's contracts with the athletics marketing company Learfield Sports discovered an interesting catch to the company's rules for selling sponsorships. Despite allowing multimillion-dollar sponsorships from a company run by people that have already spent millions to eclipse all non-delusional-right-wing political efforts, Learfield has a prohibition on deals with the makers of feminine hygiene products, contraception and other prophylactics, and erectile dysfunction medication. But, again, Koch Industries is A-OK.

Under their Learfield deals, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State are guaranteed $3.6 million and $5.5 million in rights fees for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, and a good deal of that money could come from Koch. Think Progress reports:

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. [...] 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. [...] 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.

As critics have pointed out, the partnership illustrates a huge disparity between universities' priorities and students'. Texas A&M, for example, has a student-backed green fund to promote sustainability on campus, and yet climate change-denying Koch Industries has already sponsored at least one Aggies basketball game.

None of that is to mention the fact that the prohibited sponsors list equates birth control -- which 99 percent of American women, many of them college students, use -- with cigarettes. Nor does it account for the clear implication that both of those things are considered to be worse than any activity that would require a company to pay millions and millions of dollars in fines for EPA violations.

"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," Environment Texas director Luke Metzger told Think Progress of the partnerships, "but feminine hygiene products are somehow less acceptable.”

By Jenny Kutner

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