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Should K-12 Schools Enlist Sponsors to Help Save Sports?

In tough budget times like these, schools would be wise to explore potential revenue sources to prevent widespread cuts. With that in mind, some, though not as many as might be expected, have pursued sponsorships to support their sports programs.

The Tacoma, Wash., school district is one of the latest to bolster its high school sports teams with paid advertisements on their video scoreboards, according to The News Tribune. The district recently agreed to build a video-enhanced scoreboard at one of its high schools, in addition to smaller scoreboards for the gyms of its five high schools.

The district hopes that the scoreboards—which will cost roughly $400,000—will bring in about $106,000 worth of advertising revenue annually, CFO Ron Hack told the paper. After making a $180,000 down payment on the scoreboards, the district plans on paying $44,000 annually over five years to cover the remaining balance, and spending the other $62,000 of ad revenue each year on middle school sports programs.

After the district pays off the scoreboards in full, it plans on using the scoreboard revenue to help support school arts, music, and sports programs.

There are critics. The article quoted Josh Grolin, the associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, as saying, "Any time you have advertising on school property, it exploits a captive audience of students ... anything advertised there will have the school's implicit endorsement." Grolin said that while the campaign is sympathetic for schools in tough financial situations, it doesn't believe that schools should be giving implicit endorsements for products by allowing them to advertise on campus.

In the nearby Sumner school district, car dealership Sunset Chevrolet has a $504,000, 14-year contract for the naming rights to the high school's stadium. Most of the contract money will go toward stadium upgrades, although a portion is reserved for scholarships.

District spokeswoman Ann Cook told the paper that Sumner is one of the few high school stadiums that has sold its naming rights, but it's "been a win-win situation" for the district.

With Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently stressing the need for schools to become creative in times of financial stress, more districts could turn to sponsored ads on scoreboards as one way to spare their extracurricular programs from the chopping block.

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