Corporate sponsorships to augment education budgets? Let’s discuss
There is the notion, perhaps more useful now in ideology than practicality, that our schools remain the last bastions of purity, fundamentally immune from the stigma of corporate sponsorship. Imagine the odor attached to the Liberty Mutual Elementary School or the Chock Full O' Nuts Gymnasium.
But I confess to being more than disturbed the other day at seeing two stories on theday.com - side by side - chronicling educational budget issues in East Lyme and Waterford, two of our most desirable, well-run towns. Exponential increases imperiling programs and livelihoods leave no easy answers, but surely illustrate the ominous reality that if it can happen in two of our Camelots, it can happen anywhere else, too.
Now I get that athletics and their tentacles are a fraction of overall budgets. But it's time to consider what school officials in other states have for quite some time: corporate sponsorship to not merely defray the costs of athletic programs but to perhaps add some money to the bank account.
We begin with this premise: Our country is not what the agenda-driven blatherers on both sides proclaim. It is neither gosh golly whiz wonderful and making a comeback or doomed for eternity. We are an amorphous blob somewhere in the middle with money issues that are going nowhere, regardless of who sits in The Big Chair.
It is based on that premise that we cannot apply old school mores to present day dilemmas. Twenty years ago, the idea of “Pfizer Field” might have sent some of our elected officials straight for the Pepto Bismol. Now it's a potential revenue stream that ought to be considered.
Example: The Indiana state legislature passed property tax caps and cut roughly $300 million from state funding in K-12 education in 2009 amid a recession and sagging revenues. The cuts, per a lengthy report in the Indianapolis Star, forced some school districts to institute payto-play or participation fees. Some districts cut their athletic director positions entirely.
“When the property tax cuts hit in 2009, it really affected athletics,” Grant Nesbit, who was the athletic director at Lawrence North High in Indianapolis at the time, told the Star. “Before 2008, the naming rights were almost unheard of. There was a time when most schools would have been against any advertising on buildings. But the bottom line is the bottom line. Schools had to get creative.”
Several districts in Indiana sought corporate sponsorships. The Star reported two graduates of Noblesville High who own a car dealership contributed $120,000 over 10 years for naming rights to the high school football field. A man named Ray Skillman, who operates nine auto dealerships in Central Indiana, entered a five-year agreement with a school system for $500,000 for the naming rights to the football stadium. (Hello Herb Chambers? M.J. Sullivan? The Antoninos?) There are many other examples.
“The biggest thing you have to sell is the value that a potential sponsor may garner that will help their business derive from advertising, the generation of goodwill and a connection to the community, and not just a donation,” Andy Tebbe, an athletic director in Indiana, told NFHS.org. “You also have to have patience. It took us six to eight years to sell 12 naming rights sponsorships.”
There are also promotional opportunities for sponsors at other school district athletic facilities, complimentary passes to athletic events, signage and area at events to distribute promotional items.
Athletic directors and others with such experiences say representatives from all facets of town - central office, school principal, town officials and members of the community with connections to potential sponsors - have participated in the process, having agreed that all sponsors have a business or products that do not run afoul of high school kids or the high school experience. Put it this way: Around here, there would be no Gold Club Stadium.
Now comes the most perilous part: This would require creative thinking, different business practices, rewritten policies and collaboration. Translation: more work. We know how such stories usually end.
But I’ll say this: At least it’s a prospective solution, instead of the typical blame assessment that pollutes the HCS (Human Comments Section) and everywhere else. Seriously, folks: Budget issues aren’t going anywhere. But if the best you can do are the tedious, tiresome and toneless wouldas, shouldas and couldas, then just save them for your own echo chamber.
Pfizer Field? Electric Boat Stadium? Mohegan Sun Gymnasium? I like the Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse better, myself. But times, they are a changin. We all need money. I say corporate sponsorship is better than cutting a teacher. So who’s got the organizational skills, creativity and chutzpah to look into it?