And now a word from our school sports sponsor…
…Boogie Down Productions
The Volusia County (Fla.) School Board on Tuesday night is scheduled to vote on whether to open its school sports teams, as well as its classrooms, to naming-rights agreements and other forms of corporate sponsorship. Are you shocked?
You shouldn’t be.
The corporate sponsorship ship sailed a long time ago, even before today’s desperate budget times made schools more willing than ever to sully their missions with dirty business money, instead of sullying it the usual way, with stupid politics.
Texas schools began offering naming-rights deals for sports in 1990, the same year schools got new TVs and A/V equipment in return for showing their students the ad-supported news program Channel One. Mississippi found that nearly two-third of its largest high schools had sports sponsorship programs — as of 2004. This column in a Rhode Island newspaper was a big wet kiss to all the corporate sponsors of high school sports. Less nakedly capitalistic countries like Canada, Jamaica and Sri Lanka have corporate-sponsored school sports as a matter of course. Back to Texas, perennial gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman has bringing more corporate sponsorship to scholastic sports as a part of his platform. It seems that outside of the usual keep-commercials-out-of-school-crowd, the biggest complaint about corporate sponsorship money is when it appears a school district is whoring itself out too cheaply.
The consensus is that even with all the corporate sponsorship of school sports, it is a market that as unexploited as the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. The beauty of school sports sponsorship is that as a company it buys you not only exposure but also corporate good will, and as a school district it buys you not only some cash but also perhaps a little extra services off the field as well.
Take the school districts immediately to the east and west of my old district, Carmel, Ind. To the east, the equipment company that last year bought naming rights to the two high school football stadiums at Hamilton Southeastern schools in Fishers got to crow about how it was supporting a community effort ($400,000 out of $1.4 million for turf fields), in a district where the owners went to school. To the west, at Eagle-Union schools in Zionsville, the district in July not only got a local hospital system to buy naming rights to the high school field, but it used that perk as a way to get a deal on using that system to provide nursing and health services to students and staff.
Yes, with corporate money, there is the great risk of overt corporate influence in the schools. And advertisers could well take advantage, as they have with Channel One, of the fact school students, with attendance being compulsory, are the ultimate captive audience.
But until schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber, it behooves districts to at least take a look at these deals, and hopefully construct them in a way that is most advantageous to the schools and their students. A naive hope, I admit.
But the recent economic crisis has made the search for corporate sponsors more intense than ever. Schools throughout California are checking them out. And so is Volusia County.
What anti-corporate types might term the wolf in sheep’s clothing in Florida is a woman named Nancy Holman. The Daytona Beach News-Journal refers to Holman as a longtime schools supporter who this spring helped lead a $100,000 drive that got junior varsity sports and academic competitions restored to the budget, and who in 2001 successfully spearheaded a tax increase for the Volusia County district.
According to the News-Journal, Holman in mid-2008 pitched her company to sell naming rights to district facilities and ad space on the district’s Web site, marketing materials and elsewhere. Volusia County has taken her idea more seriously since Florida’s diving real estate values took property taxes, the main school funding source, down with them. Florida’s property taxes are revised annually based on the the prices paid for property in January. You can imagine how quickly that has sunk the tax base, especially because one of the state’s fastest-growing districts is now among the state’s fastest-declining, thus giving it less state funding.
With all of that going on, you can’t blame the Volusia County schools for seeking a little extra scratch from other sources. You can say the district is selling out its students by using them as a market to be exploited. But you also could say the district would be selling out its students if it didn’t explore every funding source available. The superintendent is endorsing Holman’s naming-rights proposal, and more than likely it will pass. Hey, people have been comfortable with using their Little Leaguers as billboards for years. What’s with the scruples for other athletes?
By the way, the district’s biggest risk might not be making its students even more brand-concious than they might already be. The biggest risk might be that companies are too strapped to contribute. Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield, N.J., has a program under way to raise money for its new turf field, with packages available from $250,000 to buy stadium naming rights to $5,000 to sponsor a flagpole. Takers so far: Zero.