Where should a school draw the line between fund raising and commercial enterprise? What place do corporate sponsors have on public and private campuses? And what role should our government take in setting limits in these areas? These and similar questions are the subject on an ongoing series of surveys being conducted at Scoreboards Company.
David Carpenter, superintendent of Georgia’s Houston County school system, expressed his interest in monitoring the surveys. “I’m staying tuned in to see a cross-section of opinions,” he said. “The idea of declaring campuses as commercial-free zones has some appeal, especially to parents and teachers who feel like students are already too distracted. Sometimes our messages, as educators, can get lost in the clutter. But the availability of funding sources that doesn’t require a tax increase is very attractive to an administrator.”
“Electro-Mech has been involved in placing advertising on school property since before there was a debate on the subject,” says Allen McMichael, president of Electro-Mech Scoreboard Company. “We’ve manufactured thousands of football scoreboards with Coca-Cola (Public, NYSE:CCE) logos for high school stadiums and baseball scoreboards with Pepsi (Public, NYSE:PEP) logos for public recreation parks. There are countless gymnasiums around the country with our basketball scoreboards featuring advertisements for everything from fast food restaurants to car dealerships. These types of sponsorships have a history that predates Electro-Mech, but lately they have become a source of controversy in some areas.”
Recent legislation in several states has limited the scope of advertising on public school property, including athletic facilities. Concerns about obesity in school children have driven legislators to propose strict rules about the availability of soft drinks on campuses. Jon Martin, manager of direct and bottler sales for Electro-Mech explains the connection to scoreboards: “For years there has been a strong partnership between Electro-Mech and the soft drink bottling companies. It’s a running joke that half our customers don’t realize they have an Electro-Mech scoreboard; they think they have a Coca-Cola scoreboard because of the big red advertising panel on the side.”
Electro-Mech’s survey questions will probe this relationship between nutrition and funding with an upcoming question asking, “Should schools be allowed to sell sugared soft drinks on their property?” Jon Martin feels the soft drink bottlers have been made scapegoats in arguments about overweight kids. “If you visit a typical elementary school cafeteria you’ll see that kids have a wide range of choices about what to eat at lunch. And you don’t see many kids choosing carrot sticks and broccoli over a bag of chips. If folks are truly concerned about the health and weight of students, it’s a mistake to think that the problem can be solved or even significantly impacted by banishing soda and advertisements for soft drinks. I find it unfortunate that efforts by well intentioned government officials to push the bottling companies out of the schools have resulted in athletic programs having to scramble to replace money from reliable advertising partners with money from other fund raising efforts.”
Martin, a former high school athletic director, believes that advances in technology are building new opportunities for local and national marketing tied to scorboards and video systems. “I think anyone with a product or service to sell in a local market would be happy to tie that brand to the local sports team. The premium spots for advertising at an athletic venue have always been the areas around the scoreboard. You are guaranteed an audience for your message, and you benefit from being seen as a home team supporter. Now, with the pairing of high-end LED video displays and LED message centers with our screboards for football, baseball, and other sports, the opportunities for more sponsors in dynamic rotation have just exploded. I wish I had had these fund-raising techniques available back in my coaching days.”
In a world filled with advertising, should an elementary school’s basketball gym or municipal recreation center’s soccer field be considered a sanctuary from the commercial cacophony? And what impact does a school-focused marketing campaign or the availability of foods with limited nutritional value have on the well being of our nation’s kids? If you are a student or the parent of a young athlete, you should be aware that these questions, which may impact your health or the health of your child, are being debated at school board meetings, in state legislatures, and at the national level. If you are a school administrator or part of the athletic staff serving a recreation facility, your ability to make decisions locally as well as your potential sources of funding are at stake.
You can keep yourself informed on these subjects and make your opinions known by visiting the Electro-Mech web site regularly during the month of May. The results of the surveys will be published as they become available.
Electro-Mech is a scoreboards manufacturer with facilities in Wrightsville, Georgia. Since 1963 the company has provided high quality electronic scoreboards to athletic facilities across the United States.