August 21st, 2011

St. Paul schools to allow ads at sports events

Star Tribune

The St. Paul school board has agreed to let businesses advertise at sporting events, and it plans to review a long-held policy that bans advertisements on school property.

At this month’s board meeting, the administration proposed entering into a contract with School Space Media that would place digital advertisements at sporting events. That could bring the district up to $15,000 per school each year.

The suggestion launched an hour-long debate among board members about the ethics and legalities of the proposal. Allowing the company to advertise on school property would violate an existing 2007 policy that bans such ads, board members concluded.

“Who benefits?” asked board member Anne Carroll. “Who does it support? Does it support our strategic plan for academic success? Who gets what revenue and on what basis? The real underlying issue is, is this a commercialization of our children’s education?

“I hear on this board a comfort level with some of that. I don’t think at this point in time we will have a difficult time coming to a consensus on this.”

Board members agreed to allow the district to enter into a contract with School Space Media and said they will work to revise or eliminate the existing policy in the coming months.

School Space Media proposed placing digital screens that will advertise local and regional companies at Central, Como and Highland Park high school athletic events.

The company, based in St. Paul, started last year and currently serves 22 schools in the metro area, said Brian Nicholson, president of the company. St. Paul will be its largest district.

“The program is kind of growing like crazy,” Nicholson said.

Administrators say the money will be beneficial, especially in these tight financial times. In June, the board approved a budget that slashed $25 million from its budget and resulted in 345 layoffs, the consolidation of several programs and the reorganization of the administration.

In the years since the 2007 policy that banned advertising on school property was enacted, several local companies have approached the board asking to advertise in schools and the board has turned them away, Carroll said.

The district would have to preapprove any ad that’s placed on the sign, and the district also could place its own messages on the billboard. The district will get half of the company’s net profits.

“We solicit sponsorship from companies that belong in front of families and kids,” Nicholson said. “This is not part of the curriculum. No students are required to be there. Most students pay to attend these games.”

Robert Madison, athletic director at Mounds View High School, said his school benefited from its relationship with School Space Media during the past school year.

In addition to local advertisements, the signs also promoted school spirit by flashing a band of galloping mustangs—the school’s mascot—along with school announcements during events.

He said the school is uncertain how much money it will get from the endeavor because those numbers haven’t yet been totaled.

“Our biggest concern was that they work with us and [ensure] the type of ads are the kind that we want,” Madison said. “It’s hard to go to a sporting event today where you’re not presented with some sort of advertising.”

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