Should Corporations Sponsor School Sports?

New York City high school athletes compete during a PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League) All-Stars game at the NYC Mayor's Cup on March 29, 2014. The city's Department of Education recently announced it was seeking sponsorship deals for PSAL and public school physical education programs. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

New York City high school athletes compete during a PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League) All-Stars game at the NYC Mayor’s Cup on March 29, 2014. The city’s Department of Education recently announced it was seeking sponsorship deals for PSAL and public school physical education programs. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

 

The homecoming game sponsored by Nike? This gym class brought to you by Dasani?

Such scenarios could be in the cards for New York City public school students, if a Department of Education effort comes to fruition. The agency intends to seek sponsorship deals for public school physical education programs and the Public School Athletic League, a solicitation released in early April revealed.

The department announced in the City Record that it is seeking a sports marketing firm to “develop a coherent marketing/business plan to attract paying sponsors to promote and/or merchandise goods and services” that are “centered on” PSAL and public school physical education programs.

If a firm is selected, it would receive a five-year contract, with the option for a one-year extension. The Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

PSAL runs varsity athletics in the city high schools, with more than 37,000 participants in 22 sports, according to the PSAL website.

This isn’t the first time the Department of Education has flirted with corporate sponsorship. In 2012, it posted a similar solicitation for an athletic apparel, footwear, or equipment company to sponsor the city’s high school and middle school sports teams.

The department also had a two-year revenue-generating arrangement with Cablevision to broadcast PSAL games; that deal has expired.

And most famously, in 2003, the city struck a $166 million deal with the beverage company Snapple, with a contract that put vending machines in the city’s public schools that exclusively sold Snapple-brand water and juice. The deal promised a minimum of $40.2 million to the department and an additional minimum of $3 million per year for PSAL programs. But according to the Daily News, school income from Snapple during the five-year deal fell several million dollars short of that commitment.

The city’s revenue budget does not currently reflect any income to the Department of Education from sports sponsorships, according to the Independent Budget Office.

Leverage Agency, whose slogan is “the power to influence,” is a company that specializes in bringing corporate logos onto the sports field. Kevin McIntyre, executive vice president and general manager says he isn’t surprised to see New York City schools in the arena. “It’s been done before, with the Snapple deal,” he noted.

In evaluating the new opportunity, said McIntyre, “We will look at the assets available in the school system, the number of students and parents, and other eyeballs our advertising elements could garner, and break it down in a cost-value analysis.”

Some advocates for young people are not cheering, meanwhile.

Josh Golin, associate director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a national advocacy group, argues that the monetary benefits of such deals are small compared to the psychological effects on children when they are forced to see or wear ads in school. “Sports should be part of the school curriculum, but we have to find a way to do it without selling out kids,” Golin said.

Even where such promotions are limited to high schools, said Golin, teens are highly susceptible to peer pressure. “Schools should be teaching kids to resist that kind of pressure, not capitalizing on it so that kids will get the shoes that the popular athletes are wearing,” Golin said.

Louise Dewast contributed reporting for this story. A version of the story ran in New York World

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