ESPN Regional Sues ConAgra Over Sponsorships

A subsidiary of ESPN claims in a lawsuit that Omaha-based ConAgra Brands backed out of sponsorship agreements for major golf events and a college football bowl game, costing the company millions in revenue.

ESPN Regional Television Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., filed the lawsuit last Friday in U.S. District Court in Omaha.

ConAgra spokesman Chris Kircher said his company was surprised by the lawsuit.

"We fulfilled our obligations some time ago and there have been a number of other companies sponsoring (the golf events and bowl game) since then," Kircher said.

The lawsuit said ConAgra agreed to pay $18 million over three years to be title sponsor for the made-for-television Skins Game, Champions Skins Game, and LPGA Skins Game.

But ConAgra pulled out of the agreement for the second and third years and did not pay $1 million of a $5.5 million fee for the first year (2002-03), the lawsuit said.

ESPN Regional also alleges that ConAgra skipped out on the second and third years of its title-sponsor agreement for the Hawaii Bowl. ConAgra paid $360,000 to sponsor the inaugural Hawaii Bowl, in 2002, but reneged on a $865,000 commitment for the second and third years, the lawsuit said.

ESPN acknowledges that it found other sponsors for the golf events and bowl game but that those agreements were not as lucrative as the ones they had with ConAgra.

ESPN Regional is seeking $1 million from ConAgra to cover the balance of the 2002-03 Skins Games sponsorship, and is asking the court to determine additional compensation for lost title-sponsor revenue from the second and third years of the golf and bowl game agreements.