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LFP cover (Photo)

The front page of The London Free Press, showcasing the disputed story, Oct. 31, 2018.

Western and the United Way are disputing a London Free Press article implying that Western charges the charity unfairly to use its football stadium.

The article, published Wednesday, cited sharp criticisms from anonymous sources inside Western University. Criticisms concerned Western's practice of charging rent to the charity for leasing TD Stadium for an annual high school football tournament, whose proceeds go to the United Way. It quotes London Ward 6 councillor Phil Squire, who also criticizes the practice.

"Critics rip university," it reads. "[It's] left some observers wondering if Western isn't offside, and others outright crying foul."

It discusses United Way's average payment of $10,000 for its five-day tournament, across which city high schools play eight games on the university's flagship athletic space.

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TD Stadium (Photo)

Western's TD Stadium, Oct. 31, 2018.

Western and the United Way confirmed this fact but said the fee is the standard rate everyone would pay to use the space, including Western's varsity sports teams. According to Gareth Cunningham, associate director of recreation and facilities, the average $10,000 total is an accumulation of 25-30 hours on the field at the standard $350 per hour rate. He said this rate has been roughly the same since TD Stadium opened in 2000 and has only increased incrementally, little to no more than inflation. The Press reported the fee had jumped from $90 to $350 "recently," as per an article published two weeks ago. 

Cunningham said Western's own football team pays the same rate to play games there. Kelly Ziegner, United Way Elgin Middlesex's CEO, said the fee was a drop in the bucket compared to the overwhelmingly positive and profitable relationship they have with Western.

The Press could not be reached for comment.

TD Stadium is a break-even operation, according to Christine Stapleton, director of sport and recreation services. Large third-party events can draw thousands into the stands and require assistance in maintaining the events through crowd management and other tasks like cleaning washrooms. Police are also often present. The tournament books off the track encircling the field, raising the fee from what is required to only book the field.

Western recreation officials said the tournament's usage was comparable to that of the Mustangs' football team, who presumably paid the same rate United Way does to book the field for their Ontario University Athletics semi-final game this weekend.

The tournament is organized by the Thames Valley Regional Athletics, which is comprised of two London school boards. The event's expenses are paid by United Way, and the TVRA donates all of the event's profits back to the charity.

"We understand that having an event at a premier venue has expenses," said Ziegner. "For many years it's been agreed that the players and the fans want to do it because of the experience."

Every January, Western announces a large gift to London's United Way. They gave a record $745,000 in 2015, and routinely give around $700,000. Ziegner said between the TVRA and Western they get around $1 million each year.

"United Way and the university's history goes back decades. Fundraising is a huge part of our relationship, but we're also connected in students placements and research, and in our collected interest in improving the London community," she said. "We see the Western community as very generous."

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Martin is the Senior News Editor at the Gazette. You can contact him at martin.allen@westerngazette.ca, or @mtrallen on Twitter.

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