By LAURA FOSMIRE
Capital News Service
LANSING – In a time when schools face more and more budget cuts, allowing advertising in sports facilities and auditoriums may give a small but much-needed boost to school funding.
But the complications associated with advertising are creating a struggle for districts trying to find a balance between too much advertising and preserving the sanctity of the learning environment.
St. Ignace Area Schools is featuring banners on its baseball and softball fields for the first time, according to Kathy McLeod, business manager for the district.
“We get sponsors to help our athletic programs,” she said. “If they want to pay to put a banner up on the field, we allow it. Our baseball and softball programs are self-funded, so they do anything they can to get the money needed to pay for referees, equipment, that sort of thing.”
McLeod said advertising may also be allowed in other places.
“Our scoreboard for our football field has advertising for the First National Bank because they donated the scoreboard,” she said. “Other ads and banners aren’t there yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the near future.”
She said the district is experimenting with advertising because it both generates funds and fosters good relationships with local businesses.
“Our community is really good to the school system,” she said. “They support what we do and we want to support them. As long as the signs aren’t trashy-looking and it’s something nice and neat, what’s the problem?”
St. Ignace joins eight schools in Oakland County that have decided to allow advertising on their campuses.
So far, the ads on its baseball and softball fields have pulled in an additional $2,600 for athletics.
The Traverse City district has permitted advertising for a long time, according to chief financial officer Paul Soma, but it’s been difficult formalizing its system.
“We’ve had informal advertising for a long time,” he said. “By informal, I mean that advertisers can just kind of sponsor a team without having to go through any centralized policy. We just look at each advertiser and each department on a case-by-case basis.”
The district tried to implement a more formal system in 2005, but Soma said the process proved overwhelming.
“The system only works because it’s flexible,” he said. “When we formalized it, we lost that flexibility and it caved in on itself. It was too bureaucratic.”
Like St. Ignace, the ads in the Traverse City district come in the form of signs in athletic fields and on scoreboards. But Soma said companies have found clever ways to insert subtle advertising into district events.
“We had a company sell us instruments for our marching band, and they have their company name written all over each instrument,” he said. “It’s pretty clear out on the field. They didn’t pay us for that advertising but they’re getting it. They’ve really figured it out.”
Soma said the district’s informal and flexible method for dealing with advertisers works well for finding extra money here and there, but the district is still looking for a way to standardize it.
“It helps to pay the extra bills, like for athletic equipment,” he said. “But it’s not going to solve the district crunch. We’re in the process of figuring out some parameters to use when choosing advertisers.”
Soma added that many critics of advertising in schools fear that the focus will move away from education and toward consumerism, but he finds that idea “hilarious.”
“Ads are a part of our culture,” he said. “Kids are going to be exposed to them no matter what. Of course, some ads would be inappropriate for a school setting.”
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.