SOUTH PORTLAND — As the start of the school year approaches, paid billboard ads are appearing at some school athletic fields under a new policy to boost revenue.
The School Board’s 4-3 decision in February to allow ads to be placed at Beal Gymnasium and Martin Field at South Portland High School followed a proposal from Athletic Director Todd Livingston. He said the added income could help defray costs for athletic programs that are otherwise raised by local booster clubs.
In an age where the cost of new uniforms for one team can total a couple thousand dollars, School Board members agreed that having businesses pay for advertising would help ensure accessibility to sports programs.
The questions raised were whether the School Department would be selling out for corporate sponsorship, and if students should be subjected to even more advertising than they already see every day.
Prior to the decision, school policy prohibited advertisements of any kind at all schools and athletic fields. The new source of revenue won’t exclusively be used for athletics, but over time as it grows would become reliable revenue to more fully support the entire athletic program, Superintendent Kenneth Kunin said.
The annual athletic budget is about $738,000 – not including transportation costs – about $580,000 of which is allocated for coaches’ stipends.
Kunin told the School Board in February that allowing paid sponsors could eventually bring in an additional “six-figure income” and allow for a more “robust” budget, in general.
“In order to maintain that kind of program … we’re not saying that it just funds athletics,” Kunin said. Rather, “it adds to our overall revenue line, which enables us to budget for a full athletic program. Having additional sources of revenue, wherever they come from, will help us to keep things in the budget that aren’t there.”
While it is ultimately up to the board to decide how the funds are allocated, for now the revenue is earmarked for the Athletic Department, board Chairman Dick Matthews said Monday. That will likely be expanded as the revenue grows, he said.
Matthews said there has a been a lot of interest in buying advertisements, and support from parents.
“I’m getting tons of responses,” he said, “and I haven’t gotten a negative one yet.”