Saturday, November 05, 2005

Norman Conquest? Did Cox Connection Influence Mayor’s Arena Choice?

Yesterday, I attended the press conference at which Bill LaFortune announced his selection for the new arena’s management contract. LaFortune's handpicked Vision 2025 Oversight Committee and the Events Center Design Committee a selected the Philadelphia based company, SMG. [Please note that one of the members of the oversight committee is local attorney Charles Norman, of the law firm Norman Wohlgemuth Chandler & Dowdell]

Originally formed in 1977 to manage the Louisiana Superdome, SMG (Sports Management Group) is a joint venture in general partnership form with two equal principals: The Hyatt Hotel Company and ARAMARK Corporation. The firm manages 74 arenas and 7 stadiums, which is admittedly quite impressive.

However, it has been rumored for some time that the current administration was leaning very heavily toward SMG, even as much as a year ago.

The V2025 Oversight & Design Committees conducted interviews from the three applicants on Thursday, November 3rd, from 9AM to 2 PM. One would assume the team stopped for lunch. It took LaFortune and his team less than one day to conduct interviews with SMG and the other three applicants, to talk over their thoughts, to weigh all the options, to choose SMG and then to put together and conduct a press conference in City Hall. That's pretty quick for a guy that often takes months to determine who to put onto the Sign Advisory Board.

So was the fix in? If so, why? Or did SMG have an advantage based on relationships with committee members?

Who did SMG beat out for the contract? Two others applied. They were John Scott and his staff, who currently operate the Convention Center and another international team named Global Spectrum. (I encourage you to click on the hyperlink to see Global Spectrum's site, lest you think they were some minor player compared to SMG.) Here's a bit about Global Spectrum (ironically, also Philadelphia based) from one of their news releases:

Global Spectrum, the fastest growing firm in the public assembly facility management field with more than 45 facilities throughout the United States and Canada, manages the Iowa Events Center. The Philadelphia-based company is part of one of the world’s largest sports and entertainment firm Comcast-Spectacor, which also owns the Wachovia Center and Wachovia Spectrum, the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League, the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association, the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League, Flyers Skate Zone, a series of community ice skating rinks, Comcast SportsNet, a regional sports programming network, Ovations Food Services, a food and beverage services provider, New Era Tickets, a full-service ticketing and marketing product for public assembly facilities, and Front Row Marketing Services, a commercial rights sales company. Comcast-Spectacor owns three minor league baseball teams - the Bowie Baysox, the Delmarva Shorebirds and the Frederick Keys - all affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles.

What is very interesting to me can be found in Global Spectrum's full name; "Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of Comcast Spectacor." Here's a link to Comcast Specator's site.

Having one time been employed in the cable industry, I'm very familiar with the name Comcast.
For those of you that aren't familiar with Comcast, here are some details from the company's web site:

Comcast is the nation's leading provider of cable, entertainment and communications products and services, serving more than 21.5 million cable subscribers and more than 7.7 million high-speed Internet customers. Comcast serves 1.2 million cable telephone subscribers. Comcast is principally involved in the development, management and operation of broadband cable networks and the creation and delivery of programming content. Comcast provides basic cable, digital cable, high-speed Internet and digital phone services The Company's content networks and investments include E! Entertainment Television, Style Network, The Golf Channel, Outdoor Life Network, G4, AZN Television, PBS KIDS Sprout, TV One and four Comcast SportsNets.

The Company also has a majority ownership in Comcast-Spectacor, whose major holdings include the Philadelphia Flyers NHL hockey team, the Philadelphia 76ers NBA basketball team and two large multipurpose arenas in Philadelphia ,Comcast also is a partner in joint ventures focused on digital cable technology developments including GuideWorks, TVWorks, Combined Conditional Access Development (CCAD), Conditional Access Licensing (CAL) and OCAP Development.

Compare this now, to Tulsa's local cable company, Cox Communications:

Cox Communications is a multi-service broadband communications company with approximately 6.6 million total customers, including 6.3 million basic cable subscribers. The nation’s third-largest cable television provider, Cox offers both analog cable television under the Cox Cable brand as well as advanced digital video service under the Cox Digital Cable brand.

Cox provides an array of other communications and entertainment services, including local and long distance telephone under the Cox Digital Telephone brand; high-speed Internet access under the Cox High Speed Internet brand; and commercial voice and data services via Cox Business Services. Local cable advertising, promotional opportunities and production services are sold under the Cox Media brand. Cox is an investor in programming networks including Discovery Channel.
What is the significance of this? Well, if you're Cox Communications and you have the cable franchises for the two largest cable markets in the state of Oklahoma, how excited are you going to be to have a subsidiary of the nation's largest cable company suddenly getting a toehold in your market? Not very, I can assure you.

Don't forget to throw into the calculation, this little factoid. We've just announced that BOK is going to be given the naming rights for Tulsa's arena and most of us know that Oklahoma City awarded their naming rights to the area Ford dealerships.

What is probably of less common knowledge for Tulsans is that OKC's convention center, was renamed, too. Formerly the Myriad Center, OKC's city government also secured naming rights for the convention center. And who was awarded those rights?

Click here to see for yourself.

Note the logos in the lower right-hand corner.

Not interesting enough for you, yet? Okay...remember when I asked you to note the fact that local big-wig attorney Charles Norman was a member of the Vision 2025 Oversight Committee that was selected by Mayor Bill LaFortune? Would it surprise you to know (if you didn't already) that before he was our mayor and after he was our District Attorney, Bill LaFortune was an attorney for the law firm of Norman Wohlgemuth Chandler & Dowdell? get's better. Would it surprise you to know that one of NWC&D's biggest clients is none other than Cox Communications?

Norman Wohlgemuth Chandler & Dowdell

Location: 2900 Mid Continent Tower
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74103

Representative Clients:
Bethlehem Steel Corp.; BSW International; Citicorp Real Estate, Inc.; Crum & Forster; Mid-Continent Concrete Co.; Mid-Continent Energy, Inc.; Raytheon Co.; Sooner Pipe, Inc. and affiliates; Sovereign Insurance Life Insurance Company of California; St. John Medical Center; Cox Communications; Tulsa City-County Library System; Gemstar-TV Guide International, Inc.; T-Mobile USA, Inc.; Farmers Alliance Mutual Insurance; Duke Energy Field Services, Inc.; Hillcrest Health System; Warren Foundation.

So what if the firm represents Cox...that doesn't mean they are a client of Norman's? How about this from the Tulsa City Council's online meeting minutes from February 22, 2005:

Public Works Committee

Agenda Item Number 8

Franchise agreement with Cox Communications to allow television cable access and equipment within the City of Tulsa’s right of way. 05-119

Discussion At Meeting:

A representative from Cox, Mr. Mullin, came to discuss a permanent
non-exclusive franchise with the City of Tulsa. Charles Norman is also here as Cox’s representative to negotiate with the City of Tulsa. Councilor Sullivan says that this item allows others to move into this contract through a bidding process and that Cox is a friendly community partner. Charles Norman, the legal representative from Cox, talked about how the Charter expresses that this contract would be at will from the side of the City for cause. He also gave an extensive history of cable franchises to the Council. He says that he feels that a vote of the people is not needed to establish a franchise. Councilor Sullivan added more support for this arrangement.

Further throw into the mix the fact that Mr. Norman serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Tulsa with such luminaries as Steve Turnbo [Great Plains Airlines], Bob & Roxanna Lorton [Great Plains Airlines], Buddy LaFortune [Mayor's father], Sharon Bell [BOK Board], Paula Marshall [BOK Board] and Kathryn Taylor [BOK Board].

Think any influence is getting applied to Hizzoner the Mayor? Maybe. Maybe not.


bamlock said...

So is this also why we started having Comcast commercials being aired locally during the past few weeks? I was hoping competition was coming in..dang-it

I would have rather had a company that would be in competition with OKC and not one that makes us have to share with OKC or get their hand me downs

ted said...

Just because a law firm lists a corporation as one of its clients, doesn't necessarily mean it it one of its "biggest" clients, as you assume.

bamlock said...

Guess it doesn't mean it's not one either....
If no one from that law firm can represent me in a case against Cox because of conflict of interest then it should work as the same rule with Norman representing Tulsa with being on the commitee...