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Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)
Imagine high school football teams taking the field under the bright lights of Coca-Cola Stadium. Or Boeing Field. Or Walmart Park.
It could happen. The name of the next stadium in the Charleston County School District could go to the highest bidder under a policy that would allow corporate sponsors to name athletic facilities.
The proposal received a 5-4 vote on first reading at a Charleston County School Board meeting Monday. Board members Kevin Hollinshead, Kate Darby, the Rev. Eric Mack, Priscilla Jeffery and Todd Garrett favored it.
If the policy gets final approval next month, district staff would be able to solicit bids for naming rights. The school board then would vote to approve any such arrangement, including details on how the new revenue would be spent.
Charleston County might be the first school district in South Carolina to sell naming rights, but it wouldn't be the first in the nation.
Texas schools have sold the naming rights for mega-stadiums to car dealerships and sporting equipment stores, and the Penn-Harris-Madison school district in Indiana has inked naming agreements that netted it more than half a million dollars.
In Pennsylvania, the Market Street Sports Group has been arranging naming deals for school districts since 2006. Jeff Bertoni, president of the marketing company, said he now represents 12 school districts across the state. He said schools there are getting up to $120,000 per year for naming rights - far less than some schools in the football-crazed Lone Star State but enough to pay for a few teacher salaries or new instruments for the marching band.
Athletic teams at Hempfield High School in Landisville, Penn., now play at Georgelis Law Firm Stadium and the Lancaster Toyota-Mazda Tennis Courts. A stadium in Perkasie, also in Pennsylvania, hosts home games at Grand View Health Stadium, festooned with the logos of the Pennridge High School Rams and the local hospital alike.
Bertoni said the companies who choose to buy naming rights tend to be locally based, as opposed to larger corporations like Nike or Gatorade. And with thousands of attentive parents and fans passing through the bleachers each year, Bertoni said the sponsors are getting bang for their buck.
"The kids who are playing on the field are my neighbors. ... When a sponsor supports them, I'm going to be a lot more likely to support that sponsor because they are directly supporting my own child," Bertoni said.
And Charleston County has been in need of new revenue. On Monday, when it voted to pursue selling naming rights, the School Board also voted for a property tax increase to fund a 6.8-percent, $32.3 million budget increase for the next school year.
The district raised local taxes by the maximum amount allowable under state law this year, adding $5.36 onto the tax bill for a $15,000 vehicle. It's building two regional stadiums, in Mount Pleasant and North Charleston, that will cost a combined $34 million including a land purchase.
"The district has to get to a point where we start looking at revenue streams to broaden our income," Hollinshead said.
Opponents of selling naming rights say it could entangle the public school district with corporate interests.
"Say one of the airlines decides to name one of our stadiums in North Charleston, and then you hear that they're discriminatory or something. Do we step in and kick them out?" asked board member Chris Staubes, who voted against the policy.
"What if it's an unpopular group or a strange group that wants something named after them?" asked the Rev. Chris Collins, another opponent.
The policy does not set limits on the types of companies that can sponsor a stadium, but it does leave the final decision to the school board to approve or deny any sponsorship.
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