Critics call foul on Civic Center's coal-sponsored basketball court logo
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Charleston Civic Center's decision to accept sponsorship money and place coal industry images on its new basketball playing surface is raising eyebrows.
The hardwood floor paid for by the West Virginia Coal Association debuted at Tuesday's West Virginia University-Morehead State game.
A black perimeter and large orange outline of the state with the silhouettes of three coal miners dominates half-court. There are also logos for the association's "Friends of Coal" group on either side.
The industry-sponsored floor has angered an environmentalist.
"How would people feel if the Democratic Party painted Democratic logos all over the court and Republicans had to sit there and look at that?" said Denise Giardina, a Charleston author and opponent of mountaintop removal mining.
Giardina said sporting events - including the high school basketball tournaments hosted at the Civic Center - shouldn't be turned into political events.
The Civic Center is a government building owned by the City of Charleston.
Laura Phillips, president of the Phillips Group, a Charleston-based advertising agency, said she wasn't sure if the Civic Center sought public bids for the sponsorship rights.
"I'm keenly aware of the benefit the West Virginia Coal Association will derive by having its Friends of Coal logo emblazoned on the basketball court," she wrote in an email to Civic Center General Manager John Robertson.
"I wasn't aware of a public notice by the Civic Center or the City of Charleston about the need for a new basketball court floor and the willingness of the Civic Center and City to enter into a partnership with an organization of corporations to help pay for the floor."
So far, the Civic Center and the Coal Association have declined to make public the details of the deal, though it guarantees the Coal Association gets to brand the floor for the next decade. Robertson has previously said the Coal Association provides the Civic Center about $125,000 in annual business and that the court cost $82,000.
Coal Association President Bill Raney said the association had promised to maintain the floor but declined to talk about any additional figures and referred those questions to Robertson.
Robertson was out of the office Tuesday and did not respond to an email or a voicemail left on his cellphone.
Phillips said $82,000 for a court emblazoned with the Coal Association's logo for 10 years was a "heck of a deal."
"When WVU plays Marshall, you can pay $2,500 or $3,000 for a spot in the game," she said in a telephone interview, referring to TV spots that air during the game. "To have the logo on the floor, that's a coup."
Phillips said if the city had sought bids, it might have received more money.
"There would be people like the Sierra Club or the Natural Resource Defense Council - those people might want to have their logo displayed on the floor and would have the means to pay for that," she said.
Indeed, the half-court logo may overshadow other advertisers, including Chesapeake Energy, which has a $250,000 five-year deal to sponsor the annual Marshall-WVU game. The company is paying $50,000 a year for the rights to call the game the Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic.
While the gas company may be paying for the naming rights to the game, viewers are now just as likely to notice players go back and forth on a court that is painted to promote the state's coal industry.
Chesapeake Vice President Scott Rotruck said a WVU official who read about the new court in the newspaper first told him about the new Civic Center floor.
Rotruck said his company is committed to sponsoring the game.
"A deal is a deal," he said.
Rotruck said the industry competes with coal but they work together to help the state. But he said he would be open to finding some way to get Chesapeake's logo on the floor during the Capital Classic.
"If they would be willing to allow us to put some logos on there, that would be wonderful," he said.
Raney wasn't sure what he would do.
"I don't know that that's my decision to make; I think that's a matter of going through what all the ideas and concerns are," he said.
WVU Deputy Athletic Director Mike Parsons said the university would do what it could to address any concerns Chesapeake had, though Parsons said Monday afternoon he had not spoken with Rotruck about the issue and didn't know if there were any concerns.
"We have to make sure that the corporate sponsor receives adequate, appropriate exposure for their sponsorship, and that's something we'll sit down with Chesapeake and make sure that does happen," he said.
Raney also dismissed criticism from environmentalists about the sponsorship. He said he wouldn't expect them to be in favor of whatever the association was doing. He said the decision to donate the floor was an example of industry standing up to support the community.
The Coal Association also sponsors the annual WVU-Marshall football game, which is known as the Friends of Coal Bowl.