For Mike Gosz and Jaime Sherwood, being a high school athletic director requires a lot more versatility than it did even a few years ago.
For Mike Gosz and Jaime Sherwood, being a high school athletic director requires a lot more versatility than it did even a few years ago. But tough economic times demand tough decisions, and both men have been instrumental in convincing school administrators, city councils, local businesses and - they hope - their communities at large that installing large video boards in high school football stadiums makes strong fiscal sense. Loaded with paid sponsorships, the boards are entirely dependent on outside revenues and private donations, and they boast a fast rate of return.
"This is a sign of the times," says Gosz, pun perhaps intended. As athletic director at Hamilton High School in Sussex, Wis., he has overseen the purchase, installation and sponsorship sales of a 9-by-14-foot video board (126 square feet with 26mm resolution) as part of a 625-square-foot LED scoreboard structure, plus the addition of a 6-by-8-foot video board in the gymnasium, located just to the right of the existing scoreboard. Both video boards will provide 10 to 15 seconds of advertising for each of multiple sponsors; the more they pay, the more exposures they receive. The outdoor video board also includes five static, backlit billboards for which "anchor sponsors" will shell out $10,000 for 10 years. Sponsors who pay $5,000 for five years or $1,000 for one year forego the backlit signage and receive a digital-only advertising package instead. "Our goal down the road is for these advertising dollars to eventually support part of the school district's budget. Who knows? We're in the infancy stage."
So is Wayzata (Minn.) High School, which this month will install an outdoor scoreboard and similar 264-square-foot video board at its football stadium, a project that is expected to cost $350,000. As at Hamilton, sponsors will receive backlit panels and/or digital exposures based on their level of financial commitment - anywhere from $1,500 per year up to $10,000 per year, with a minimum three-year commitment. "You might see a video board as a luxury, but this is the world that kids are living in," says Sherwood, the school's director of athletics and activities. "It's what you see at pro sports events, it's what you see at college games, and it has a trickle-down effect. People say, 'Well, you could spend the money in other ways.' Yeah, we could. But I don't think I could get a local business to sponsor the construction of bathrooms. People chuckle, but that's the reality. No business is willing to give money for a bathroom. But this, they want to support."
Although schools in some states have been using various degrees of video board technology for at least five years, Hamilton and Wayzata - both large, athletically competitive schools - are among the first in their states to install video boards that will rely so heavily on sponsorship revenue.
Maryville High School is thought to be only the second school in Tennessee with a video board, unveiled this summer and offering a broad range of sponsorships beginning at $250 per year for still-image digital ads on up to $7,500 per year for backlit signage, four still-image ads per game, multiple in-game commercials and recognition over the public-address system. The nearly 10-by-14-foot video board (140 square feet) abuts the football stadium's existing scoreboard. "In the past, it had always been Coke or Pepsi that sponsored your scoreboard in the gym, and we still benefit from that in some of our elementary school gyms," says Mike Winstead, assistant director of Maryville City Schools. "But we've had a lot of athletic success and tons of local support, and we've not tapped into that to generate the revenue that we could. It's time to take a fresh look at new revenue opportunities."
A fresh look was necessary at Hamilton and Wayzata after it became apparent that finding replacement parts for their old bulb-operated football scoreboards was becoming increasingly difficult. As Gosz puts it, "We had a one-time opportunity, so we wanted to do it right and find ways to make money."
Hamilton's "Charging Forward" program, created by the school's booster club, handles capital expenditures and has helped raise funds for new baseball dugouts and soccer shelters. But the scoreboard/video board project demanded bigger dollars and greater creativity, as well as a leap of faith from local restaurants, financial institutions, automotive dealerships and other businesses that a video sponsorship package would net greater returns than advertising in game programs or on season-schedule posters. "This is a new concept, and getting some of the businesses to fully understand what this is about was difficult," Gosz says. "Any time you have something new, people are going to resist change, and in some cases, we're dealing with companies that don't even have an advertising budget. They can advertise on a poster, but if the players' pictures aren't on them, not many people will take them. Or they can advertise on a program that ends up at the bottom of the bleachers. I don't think that's as beneficial as what we're going to provide with this video board."
Gosz and members of Charging Forward targeted businesses with which Hamilton athletics already had relationships and promised an enhanced image and increased foot traffic. "Our community is extremely loyal, and don't think for a minute that if Culver's and McDonald's are right next to each other - and Culver's is on our video board - people aren't going to turn right into Culver's parking lot instead of left into McDonald's," Gosz says. "That's the way this community operates."
Gosz told video board sponsors to expect exposures at an estimated 120 events per year at both the stadium and the gymnasium, with each sponsor's name being displayed on the board between six and 10 times per event. "I think some of the things we'll be able to do once the board is up will make sales easier next time," he says, adding that some of those things could include tried-and-true "student-athlete of the week" segments (in Hamilton's case, sponsored by a regional hospital), "sub of the game" honors from a sandwich shop for a player who came in off the bench and a "special delivery of the game" sponsored by a pizza place.
Getting to this point took some convincing of school board members, who previously prohibited advertising except on posters and in programs. Now, advertisers must adhere to the board's newly established parameters calling for "educational-friendly" messages, Gosz says. For example, a sponsor named "Bub's Bar and Grill" would simply be referred to on the video board as "Bub's Grill."
In Wayzata, where restrictions on signage unattached to buildings are in place even for businesses, the city council needed reassurance from Sherwood and the Wayzata Athletic Boosters' "Project Score" campaign that sponsors would not blatantly advertise specials such as "your ticket stub is good for one free ice cream cone" on the video board. Even the message "Like Us on Facebook" was debated. "As we kept marching through this and rewriting the ordinance, each time we asked a question, we entered into territory that there wasn't an answer for," Sherwood says. "The city council and I do not want people to be offended when they come to a game and are constantly exposed to commercials on a video board."
Sherwood even agreed to move the new scoreboard and video board from the old board's location on one side of the field to the other side (at a cost of more than $22,000), in order to avoid motorists being distracted by video clearly visible from nearby roads.
Wayzata plans to use the digital sponsorships for everything from the starting lineups and opening kickoff to timeouts and a "fan of the game." "The days of a company giving you $10,000 to put up a lit panel in a stadium or gym to help you pay for a scoreboard are over," Sherwood says. "So we need to have a way to get them involved with fans."
Sherwood also hopes to incorporate live-action footage on the video board courtesy of student-operated cameras. "Part of the enticement is that we can tie this to the curriculum," he says. "This isn't just a sports-only thing, and we can provide real-life experience for a TV production class. The video board also can highlight nonathletic events and non-stadium sports. The girls' tennis team or boys' cross country team could have video clips on there. The video board gives us the option to celebrate all activities at home events, where a large crowd would be exposed to many of the student body's successes."
Maryville and Hamilton have found other ways video boards could be incorporated into the curriculum. Maryville High will be able to use live online streams already provided by students to eventually show live action on the video board and provide spectators with instant replays, Winstead says. Students enrolled in Hamilton's graphic-arts department, meanwhile, may be called upon to help sponsors with small advertising budgets create digital exposures for a nominal fee that would help the department while providing students experience working with actual clients. Says Gosz, "This isn't just about football."
To demonstrate that Wayzata's video board isn't just about football, Sherwood arranged the fall sports schedule so that the new technology will debut at a home soccer game this month. The boards at Maryville and Hamilton will go live at home football games in late August, and plans call for eventual video boards at other athletic venues in all three districts.
For Gosz, a feeling of accomplish-ment is already setting in. "Right now, we've reached our goal," he says. "If all the funds were to come in today, we'd have the project paid for." Instead, the Hamilton School District offered two- and three-year payment plans to sponsors and secured a low-interest loan through a local bank to help cover the boards' upfront costs, while Maryville will likely pay back the city council, which loaned the district dollars for the video board and other football stadium improvements, within five years. Maryville also contracted with two advertising firms (at a reduced commission) to oversee the district's video board sponsorships. "That'll get us off the ground and help us with everything we need regarding graphics and commercials," Winstead says. "We have a very small central district office, and none of us could devote the time that was necessary for this."
Owners of a public relations firm in the Wayzata area (who also are WHS alums) hosted a seminar for the school's new video board sponsors about how to use social media in promoting their businesses to the high school market, and several sponsors attended. "If we hadn't gotten the support for this project, we would have stopped," Sherwood says. "We were testing the waters all along. If this was something the business community would get behind, then we wanted to see how far we could go with it. But never did we say, 'We've got to have it.' "
But now that they do, others might want it, too. "We were one of the first schools to add synthetic turf," Sherwood says. "At the time, everyone thought that was over the top, that it was dangerous and people were going to get injured. We had to constantly educate people about its benefits. And now, guess what? Every school in the Twin Cities metro area has turf or is working on getting turf. So for something that was once seen as a luxury, you can't find anyone to say anything bad about it now."
"It's one of those things that will generate new revenues when budgets are tight," Gosz concludes about video boards. "I will venture to say this is something that will eventually become the norm."