The trend of stadium sponsorships
The landscape at Brunswick High School (Ohio) would be vastly different without the sponsorships that are becoming more common in interscholastic sports, and not just on the playing field.
When Athletic Director Pietro Demonte helped his department land a 15-year deal with a local auto dealer, it provided the school more flexibility with its spending. Allowances typically reserved for athletics could now flow back into the classroom, where Demonte said it could better serve students in earning a quality education.“It goes back to our kids in the classroom, and when you think about it that’s really what we want is our kids to be educated,” Demonte said. “That’s why they’re here.”
Years ago, naming of football stadiums and basketball courts was reserved for local legends. That trend began to fade when schools discovered there was significant money to be made in naming rights of their athletic facilities.
Brunswick Auto Mart Stadium pulls in $750,000 over the life of the contract, Demonte said. The money is used for maintenance, so the district’s funds normally allocated for facility upkeep can be redistributed to other areas.
“It’s all maintenance, and if you don’t maintain those fields they’ll go quick,” Demonte said. “And in a community like Brunswick, we can’t afford for something to go bad after five or seven years. It has to be more like 10 or 12.”
It’s the same story in Texas, where stadiums are often so lavish that they rely on sponsorships or advertising to cover some of the exorbitant costs.
New Caney Independent School District outside Houston unveiled Texan Drive Stadium in September 2014. The facility seats more than 8,000 people, has a multi-level press box, dressing rooms and a community room that can host anything from meetings to wedding receptions. It’s most recognized feature is a 1,450-square-foot video board that towers over the south endzone.
Brent Sipe, the district’s director of sports activities and facilities, describes Texan Drive Stadium as fan friendly, built “without a bad seat in the house.” The district is growing rapidly, so it didn’t face the budget crunch that most grappled with in the sluggish economy, but the $20 million stadium still needed some financial backing from the outside.
New Caney ISD was able to secure a five-year, $300,000 agreement with Texan Drive, a local auto dealer. Sipe said the revenue will be used to cover general costs at the stadium, whether it’s installing new carpeting or adding technology.
The deal also allows Texan Drive to stream a select number of New Caney games on its website, Texan Live, which broadcasts a number of local high school events.
“We’re in a great place, and our board and community was very supportive of this project,” Sipe said. “We put some money into the field and into the locker rooms so these kids could have a real first-class experience. Where we put the money was where it touched the kids.”
These types of agreements do not happen overnight, and they’re certainly not as simple as showing up on the doorstep of a local business owner and asking for their money.
Demonte spent years building relationships with those in his community, and without that prior interaction he believes there’s no way he could have landed the agreement. Like with any partnership, people want to know they’re valued. If the only time they hear from their local athletic director is when there’s a financial need, they may not be inclined to help.
“To tell you that we walked through those doors and there was nothing already built, well that just doesn’t happen,” Demonte said. “I don’t want people to think you just go there and get the money. It’s not like that, and it’s not that easy.”
It’s not like businesses are giving handouts; they get something for their money.
Both Demonte and Sipe reached agreements with local auto dealers, helping the businesses reach newly-licensed students who might be in the market for a car.
At Brunswick Auto Mart Stadium, the dealership got its name on the outside above the main ticket booth, inside the stadium and a few of the entrances.
Sipe said there is no permanent signage inside Texan Drive Stadium, but the business receives rolling advertisements on the electronic banner and video boards. Its name is also on the back of the scoreboard and it’s recognized several times throughout events.
“All of our electronic media references their name as well,” Sipe said. “And for high school playoff games, everyone knows they’re coming to play at ‘Texan Drive.’”
Opponents argue commercialization of high school sports is a slippery slope, but Sipe and Demonte insist they’ve received little, if any, pushback from the community. They said the reaction was almost entirely positive, as taxpayers appreciate the efforts they’re making in finding new revenue streams and helping to save money in the budget.
“I didn’t hear one negative thing,” Demonte said. “I heard all positives from the community, and they actually couldn’t believe that I was able to get that kind of money.”
School district budgets are beginning to rebound, but it could be years before that funding begins to find its way back into the athletic department. Even if it does, that doesn’t diminish the value in seeking out sponsorships that can offset some of the recurring costs with facilities, uniforms or travel.
Facility sponsorships are more common today than ever before, but athletic directors going that route should remember to lay the foundation early. Talk with local business owners and begin fostering the relationships that make partnerships like this possible, Demonte said.
It’s also crucial that discussions take place with the school board and superintendent. Ultimately, it’s that support that can make or break your efforts.
“It was a tremendous amount of work, and I couldn’t have done it without all of that support,” Sipe said. “I don’t want to take any credit because I was in a good place with a lot of support. Without that, it would have been very difficult to get this done.”