Alison Zeisler doesn’t expect her seventh-grade son to play football for Rogers High School for a few years yet. But she and other parents are hoping to level the playing field – literally – for student-athletes at the Puyallup school.
Zeisler believes advertising dollars could provide the financial key to a brand new sports facility at Rogers High.
“I wanted to test the waters and see what kind of interest do you get if you offered advertising,” said Zeisler, who worked in marketing before she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. “All kinds of things have to be worked out before we can move forward.”
One big thing that needs to be in place is a Puyallup School District policy that would govern advertising, sponsorships and related issues.
The Puyallup School Board held a study session on the subject last month. Rudy Fyles, the district’s chief operations officer, said the board hasn’t reached any conclusions.
While board members are mostly in the questioning phase, Fyles said they’ve made it pretty clear they don’t want commercial advertising in school hallways.
But he said they do seem open to considering advertising on sports scoreboards and, potentially, naming rights for athletic facilities.
Fyles’ recent presentation to the board included photographs of what’s been done elsewhere. One photo shows a school hallway with a bank of student lockers covered with a mural-like commercial ad. Another shows the Alaska Airlines logo that’s affixed to the University of Washington’s Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Fyles knows some ideas might not fly in Puyallup.
“We would have to honor tradition and the people that facilities are named after,” he said.
For example, Sparks Stadium in downtown Puyallup is named for former coach Carl C. Sparks.
Advertising in school settings can be a controversial subject. Critics such as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood argue that advertising on school property exploits kids, who are a “captive audience” while they’re at school. Ads at school imply school endorsement of the products, they say.
Washington state bans advertising on school buses but does allow it on other kinds of school-owned fleet vehicles, according to Fyles’ presentation.
He notes there are legal issues that would have to be addressed in a district policy. Opening school property to advertising would create a new public forum with associated free-speech rights. The district would have to consider how a policy would apply to controversial messages as well as commercial ones.
Fyles also said the district and the board would need to look at whether administering such a policy would be worth the dollars it raises.
“I don’t have the answers to that yet,” he said.
Zeisler thinks she has at least the beginnings of one.
She and other parents from the Big Blue Youth Association, a community-based organization that sponsors football and cheerleading programs for kids, have a committee that’s looking at possibilities for a Rogers athletic facility.
With the loss earlier this year of a capital bond measure in the Puyallup School District, she understands why the district has no plans to spend big dollars to upgrade the playing field at Rogers.
“With the economy now, everybody’s pockets are a little bit more shallow,” Zeisler said.
But she said the field is so riddled with holes and depressions, it forces Rogers teams to practice either at Emerald Ridge High School or at Sparks Stadium. Sparks also is where all three high schools compete on game days.
Scheduling practice and game time for three large high schools that share one stadium can be a nightmare, she added.
She said her committee’s initial outreach to area businesses has been positive and that, in six weeks, it had drummed up about $100,000 worth of interest. Most business people said they couldn’t afford to make outright donations, Zeisler said. But they could tap into advertising budgets for ads that would offer something in return for their dollars.
She believes the community and businesses could raise the millions of dollars needed for a stadium at Rogers. But she said the next steps are up to the school board and the district.
SCHOOL ADS IN LOCAL DISTRICTS
Puyallup isn’t the first Pierce County school district to tackle the issue of advertising.
In 2011, Tacoma Public Schools inked an agreement with a scoreboard company, Daktronics, that included the opportunity to sell advertising on district scoreboards. The goal was to raise enough money to help pay for the scoreboards and generate revenue to help rejuvenate middle school sports and other extracurricular programs. By August 2012, the scoreboards had generated at least $80,000.
The Sumner School District offers one of the most prominent examples of a business sponsorship: Sunset Chev Stadium. The sponsorship by the Chevrolet dealership began in 2004.
The Eatonville School Board has broached the subject of naming rights and sponsorships as well. New Eatonville Superintendent Krestin Bahr said the board has talked about the possibilities, and the discussion could continue at Monday’s school board meeting.
“We are in the beginning stages, looking at options,” Bahr said.