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Business Management: Fundraising

Athletic Business, May 03, 2010

By Michael Popke

While in-kind donations have long been commonplace in local athletic and recreation settings, full-on corporate sponsorships are becoming increasingly popular.

Mike DiMauro abhors corporate sponsorship. “I hate ‘Citi Field’ and ‘Quicken Loans Arena’ and ‘Staples Center,’ ” the sports columnist for New London, Conn.’s newspaper The Day recently wrote. “But my opinion doesn't count. Neither does yours. Or anyone else’s. There is no choice.”

DiMauro went on to advocate corporate sponsorship to help save freshman sports at nearby Waterford High School, as four sports were on the chopping block as the district dealt with a $1 million increase in health insurance costs. Soon after, the school board agreed to find more than $28,000 in corporate money to save freshman girls’ and boys’ basketball, softball and baseball.

Corporate sponsorship of facilities and programs at both the high school and municipal levels is nothing new. But as budgets continue to shrink, some administrators are abandoning previously sacred policies against selling signage and naming rights by taking steps that even a few years ago would have been considered unthinkable. Today, as DiMauro says, they simply see no other choice.

Municipal leaders in Natick, Mass., a town of 32,000 people that is facing a $2.6 million deficit next fiscal year, are so desperate for income that they’ve sought help from IEG, LLC, a Chicago-based firm whose client base includes such major players as the NFL, UNICEF and Subway. They hope to emerge with a strategy for putting price tags on everything from sports fields and a proposed community center gymnasium to public garden maintenance and the distribution of pick-up bags for pet waste. “We’re taking a creative approach to this,” Natick selectman Joshua Ostroff told The Boston Globe.

So are other communities, according to IEG, which reports an increase in the number of towns and cities it has helped engage in “municipal marketing.” The good news is that sponsorship spending by North American companies is expected to grow 3.4 percent in 2010 — to $17.08 billion, according to the company’s IEG Sponsorship Report. Last year's drop of 0.6 percent marked the first time that less money was spent on sponsorships than in the previous year. “Those unprecedented numbers reflect a marketplace that never recovered from the economy’s freefall toward the end of 2008,” says William Chipps, the publication's senior editor.

The City of San Diego’s Corporate Sponsorship Program has become a national model of municipal marketing, generating $16 million in revenue and enhancements since 1999. Cardiac Science, a developer of cardiology products and services, has been the city’s “Automated External Defibrillator Partner” since 2001. The revenue from that partnership operates and sustains San Diego Project Heart Beat, the city's Public Access Defibrillation (PAD) Program, which strives to improve the survivability of sudden cardiac arrest victims by making AEDs as accessible as fire extinguishers in city and county facilities, healthcare facilities, schools, businesses and tourist attractions. According to Cardiac Science representatives, San Diego Project Heart Beat has deployed more than 4,800 AED units, which have helped save at least 65 lives.

Meanwhile, in New York, where the state parks office has recommended closing 41 of 178 parks and reducing services at 23 others, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has proposed temporary corporate sponsorships as a quick fix. If some or even all state park operations were privatized, he says, those businesses could oversee the cost of running the parks in exchange for being identified as sponsors. “We’re willing to talk to anybody,” Eileen Larrabee, spokeswoman for the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, recently told ABC-TV affiliate WSYR. “If there was a demonstrated interest by any entity that through a donation would keep these facilities open to the public, we would certainly pursue it.”