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Schools Seek Ads for Sports

 

Russel Contreras

Boston Globe

July 31, 2008


The North Andover High School baseball field could soon be named for a bank and the track field for a local insurance company, after the School Committee agreed to allow corporate advertising at student sporting events in an effort to close a budget gap.

The committee voted to change its policy and accept corporate advertising - joining a handful of other area school districts that have sought or are considering seeking such help from businesses - after it got news of a $39,000 deficit in the school athletics program. The shortfall has forced officials to increase athletic fees - $50 to $175 for students who play a second sport, and $600 to $775 for the family cap. The base fee was kept at $300.

Committee member Chris Nobile said those increases may not be implemented if the district can raise the necessary funds through advertising to close the gap. Under the plan, the district could sell advertising signs at sporting events and offer naming rights to the high school’s baseball and track fields.

It’s too early to know whose names the fields will carry, but officials say it’s possible local institutions, such as a bank or an insurance agency, would be interested in buying naming rights as a way to support the local programs.

“This will be a great way for local businesses to get more involved and for us to say ‘thank you’ to the companies who support us,” said Nobile. “We don’t want our students to be like NASCAR with billboards on uniforms, but we do want to give local businesses an opportunity to show their support.”

Last year, around 13,000 people attended North Andover sporting events, Nobile said. That number alone should convince businesses that any advertisement at sporting events will get good exposure, he said.

He added that if North Andover is really successful at attracting advertising dollars, the district may lower fees and offer more sports.

Advertising at high school sporting events is nothing new in states such as Texas, Florida, and Tennessee. For years, scoreboards, baseball fences, even stadiums there have had the names of local and national businesses in those states.

And years ago, that was also the case in Massachusetts, though in a more limited way, said Paul Wetzel, spokesman for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. “Frankly, almost every scoreboard was made by Coke,” before advertising was largely banned, Wetzel said. “But there’s been a movement to do more of late, like offering signs.”

Wetzel said the concept is really no different from getting local businesses to support a local boosters club or the advertisements in a high school yearbook. He said that although he has heard of more school districts statewide looking into selling advertising, his association doesn’t keep records on them.

Haverhill High School has sold advertising on signs and on fences around the school stadium for the past four years, using the money to maintain stadium facilities. School officials, though, say advertising dollars have decreased in recent years.

Littleton School Committee member Paul J. Avella said the topic has been brought up in Littleton but no proposal has been formally discussed. “I think I would lean toward supporting something like this,” said Avella. “We could look at it on a deal-by-deal basis.”

Robert F. Vogler, a Methuen School Committee member, said his district has not considered inviting corporations to sponsor student sporting events, and if the proposal came up, he’d probably oppose it.

“I don’t believe in the commercialization of athletic facilities,” Vogler said. “I just wouldn’t be in favor of naming a field after a bank.”

However, Vogler said he would consider a proposal to erect signs that advertise local business at sporting events, as long as the signs are part of a yearly contract that brings in revenue each year.

The Methuen Public Schools do not charge any athletic fees.

Robert Emmett Skerry, a Medford School Committee member, cautioned districts about getting their hopes too high in trying to generate more revenue from advertising dollars, especially in the current economic climate. Medford has not looked at selling advertising at sporting events, but the district recently tried selling advertisements on school buses.

“We were led to believe it would generate $100,000,” said Skerry. “It didn’t even come anywhere near that. There’s just no money out there.”

Skerry said Medford sports is mainly helped by funds raised through Mayor Michael J. McGlynn’s annual golf tournament.

In North Andover, Nobile said school officials will aim to have “tasteful” and age-appropriate advertisements.

“We’re not looking for something that says, ‘Come by and get five bucks off a haircut,’ “ he said. “We want something that will say you support your town.”
 

 

 

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