In an effort to generate additional revenue streams at Evanston Township High School, the District 202 School Board is considering entering into corporate partnerships in which money and other services would be exchanged for naming rights to athletic facilities as well as other publicity vehicles.
Athletic Director Chris Livatino, who told the Board that he had “a background in corporate sponsorships prior to my experience as a teacher here,” presented to the Board at its Aug. 18 meeting the marketing package which he said would be used to attract potential sponsors.
“We think there are some real revenue-generating possibilities through corporate partnerships,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. “We’ve been working towards putting together some approaches where we could leverage some of those dollars.”
Chief Financial Officer William Stafford said revenues from sponsorships would most likely be directed to future capital improvement projects or to operating expenses associated with those kinds of projects, such as expenses for electricity.
Possible sponsors were not identified at the meeting and no specifics about the amount of revenue which might be expected were given.
In a separate interview with the RoundTable, Mr. Livatino said that he and other ETHS administrators were working with Brian Musburger, ETHS Class of 1989, whose talent agency represents sports and media figures such as basketball coach Phil Jackson and film critic Richard Roeper, to define the scope of the project and to identify possible sponsors.
Mr. Musburger told the RoundTable in a later interview that he was in touch with several other ETHS alumni whom he believed could help to approach appropriate companies.
“This is more than selling signage,” he said. “We will be looking for organizations with a strong track record of corporate responsibility.”
While acknowledging that these are tight economic times, Mr. Livatino also told the RoundTable, “We could potentially bring in $1 million per sponsor annually.”
At the Board meeting, Mr. Livatino pointed out that the District had recently completed several capital improvement projects which are potentially attractive venues for a corporate presence. These include the 92,000-square-foot Lazier Field at Memorial Stadium, a new baseball stadium and a new softball complex.
Mr. Livatino said that each of the corporate sponsors would, among other things, have naming rights to athletic facilities such as Beardsley Gym, the Fieldhouse and the outdoor track, the opportunity to have scoreboard advertisements at the new fields and in the natatorium, as well as signage in the various athletic venues throughout the ETHS campus.
He also proposed commercials to be shown on the cable TV broadcasts of various athletic events and logo placements in a variety of places such as tickets and t-shirts, ads in calendars and programs.
In addition to the marketing opportunities, Mr. Livatino described a range of “educational outreach” activities that the companies could participate in. These included summer camp and college scholarships to be identified as sponsored by the corporate partner, possible classroom instruction by representatives of corporate sponsors and student internships.
“We command a presence that a lot of corporations would like to tie into,” said Mr. Livatino. “At the same time, I think there’s a lot of benefits we can gain from having a partnership with certain corporations.”
Some Board members expressed concern about naming of athletic facilities.
“My visceral reaction is that I don’t like the idea of corporate naming of our facilities,” said vice president Rachel Hayman. “I don’t like the permanent aspects.”
Board member Missy Fleming agreed that she did not like the idea of “part of our school being for sale.”
Mr. Livatino defended the proposal later to the RoundTable.
“I think we really want to think about what (we’d be) giving up,” he said. “We’re not giving up our soul, we’re not compromising our values, we’re looking to provide our kids with the best opportunities possible.”
President Martha Burns told the RoundTable, “I am open to this idea . . . but we’re going to make sure that it is the right fit for our school. We need to proceed carefully and feel totally comfortable that we are maintaining the continued integrity of our school.”
Board members also asked for clarification of the difference between honoring a former employee or student at the school and a corporate name.
Ms. Hayman asked if there were other high schools doing similar programs.
“From the magnitude of what we’re trying to put together,” said Mr. Livatino, “we’re at the very forefront of what other high schools are doing.”
Board member Omar Khuri said that he was glad to receive the proposal.
“It’s something we’ve been waiting for for four or five years,” he said.
Mr. Khuri requested that there be a set of guidelines about what kind of corporate sponsors would be acceptable. He said the Board and the administration would need to determine whether any potential sponsor would “contradict anything that we’re trying to put forward with regards to our goals or any of our values.”
Ms. Fleming agreed. “I would just like us to think carefully about who’s trying to establish brand loyalty with kids. You have to dig pretty deeply into some corporations to find out what other businesses they’re in.”
Dr. Witherspoon responded that the Board already had a policy permitting corporate sponsorship, but that he would “put something together very soon” which would provide procedures to address the concerns that the Board had raised. He suggested that the Board policy committee could review the procedures which could then inform the decisions associated with the proposal.
Mr. Stafford said the Board will review the proposal again at its Sept. 22 meeting.