Cash-strapped: High schools, colleges now recruit marketers

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High school and college sports are increasingly turning to sponsorships to fill funding gaps, and more marketers are embracing the idea.

The University of Michigan athletic department recently signed the first of what will be several corporate sponsorships when it announced a three-year, $2.38 million deal with Troy, Mich.-based Standard Federal Bank. Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin echoed the thoughts of many college and high school athletic directors when he said "having a limited number of corporate sponsors helps when you're looking for new revenue streams."

"Like any marketer, we are looking to make a first impression," said a spokesman for a sneaker giant. "I'm sure one of [Standard Federal's] hopes is that students who are opening checking and savings accounts for the first time are doing it with Standard Federal."

nothing new

Certainly, this is not new. High schools across the country have accepted gymnasium scoreboards emblazoned with the logos of Coca-Cola or Pepsi for years. The sneaker and apparel companies have also been heavily involved in sponsorships, mostly on the college level. But where sponsorships were once a luxury, they are now a necessity.

In June, the Shawnee Mission school board in Kansas voted to allow advertising at two football stadiums and a soccer complex. Superintendent Marjorie Kaplan said simply, "Were getting involved [in advertising] because of finances."

At Michigan, the corporate sponsors will help fund the 25 men's and women's sports. Standard Federal will have commercials on Michigan football, basketball and hockey radio broadcasts, and have ATMs outside of 111,000-seat Michigan Stadium.

"We don't know what the ROI will be right now," said Standard Federal Bank Chairman-CEO Scott K. Heitmann, "but the value to us is to build a long-term commitment with Michigan."

Whether such sponsorships leads to advertising within stadium remains to be seen. That aspect has been vehemently opposed by Michigan alums and fans. "Right now, we have no plans for advertising in the stadium," Mr. Martin said. "Down the road, I don't know. It could change."

It will be changing at the University of North Carolina. The school's $40 million athletic department has been self-sufficient, but last year, it fell $600,000 short. In July, the university's board of trustees approved a plan to explore selling advertising in the football and basketball venues as early as 2005.

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