July 15th, 2009

Your Name Here: Springfield School Auctions Naming Rights for Football Field

By Erin Eileen O'Neill
The Star-Ledger

On a field outside Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield, nearly everything seems for sale—even the flag pole.

Desperate to raise $1.5 million to build a football field, supporters of the Union County school have adopted a growing trend in fundraising: they are auctioning off naming rights, offering sponsors a chance to plaster their brand under the bright lights each week. The field itself is going for $250,000, the scoreboard for $150,000, the concession stand for $100,000.

And that flag pole? $5,000.

As municipal budgets tighten and the zeal for artificially turfed sports fields thrives, townships and school districts like Springfield around the state are considering selling the names of their facilities, something once reserved for only major sports stadiums and music arenas.

Toms River High School North slapped the name Poland Spring Arena at the Ritacco Center on its new sports and entertainment venue after the bottled-water company agreed to pay the district $50,000 a year. A Summit family paid $400,000 to help fund the construction of a new synthetic turf field in exchange for naming rights. The city’s Tatlock field became known as the Metro Homes field, after the development company the family owns.

“You have to at least take a look at it,” said Springfield Superintendent Michael Davino.

In Springfield, the fund-raising is being handled by a private, nonprofit foundation. The township and board of education approved the plan earlier this year in part because neither had the money to pay for the field, but officials from both bodies said they would ultimately have to sign off on the corporate sponsors.

The group hopes to break ground next year on the synthetic turf football field, which will also be used for soccer and lacrosse. Later they hope to add bleachers, a scoreboard, flag pole and press box. Future projects include turfing additional fields at the high school, and renovating other fields around the township.

But with the recession emptying corporate coffers, supporters have discovered the search for sponsors isn’t easy. In five months, they’ve not found any.

“We are fighting a big obstacle,” said Phillip Iuliano, the chief operating officer of the turf foundation. “The timing is very, very bad.”

The foundation has also used more traditional fundraising efforts to boost its income. The group hosted a comedy night in June at $40 a head, which netted $8,000 for the nonprofit foundation. They are currently holding a 50/50 raffle with tickets going for $20. The drawing is Oct. 3.

“But those are just the small things,” said Jerry Cioffi, chairman of the naming process. “We need that big donor.”

Meanwhile, the high school’s football team has to rent out Union’s field for home games. And the soccer and baseball teams use fields the coaches call old and worn.

“It seems the sentiment out there is, I’ve got enough of my own problems,” said DiCocco.


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