Raise your hand if this surprises you.
When Bert Brocker wanted to advertise his auto business on the entrances of New Caney ISD’s new football stadium recently, the district offered another, bigger possibility: Naming rights to the entire $20 million, 8,000-seat facility.
Brocker, who runs the Texan GMC and Texan Dodge auto dealerships in Humble, said the new complex was right in his market, so he jumped at the opportunity.
“It was for me almost a no-brainer,” Brocker said.
For $60,000 per year for five years, Brocker bought the rights – and New Caney’s facility was named Texan Drive Stadium, part of a larger partnership between the business and the school district that also includes live streaming of athletic events and sponsoring sports camps.
The New Caney district has joined the growing ranks of Houston-area school districts to sell the naming rights for its sports facilities, allowing them to be used to promote private businesses. The practice has stirred debate in recent years over the role and effect of advertising in education.
Conroe ISD sold the naming rights to its stadium in 2007, and Humble ISD has done so for its field, entryways and suite.
While some criticize selling naming rights or advertising in school facilities as detrimental to a child’s education, experts and industry officials say the practice has grown in recent years, as schools explore different methods for raising money and businesses recognize the value of publicizing their brand in public schools.
“It’s a win-win opportunity for Texan and for us,” said Brent Sipe, athletic director for New Caney, located about 20 miles east of The Woodlands.
Faith Boninger, a research associate at the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center, which has been researching advertising and commercialism in education for more than a decade, said selling naming rights to a stadium and other advertising initiatives like New Caney’s can promote a sense of materialism and commercialism in schools.
“We like to think of school as being separated from that, kind of protected from that, a place where students can entertain options for themselves that are other than the consumerist perspective,” Boninger said.
In some cases, Boninger said, advertisements can harm a child’s psychological and physical well-being. For example, an advertisement or sponsorship from a company that sells cosmetics might create self-esteem issues for some students, or a fast-food company ad could promote unhealthy eating habits.
The center has been looking for ways to quantify and assess the magnitude of such effects.
I feel the same way about this as I do about advertising on school buses and rooftops: In an ideal world this wouldn’t happen, but given today’s realities I can’t think of a good reason to deny schools or school districts this kind of easy money. When the Legislature truly funds our schools in an adequate and equitable manner, then we can talk. Beyond that, the only surprise here to me is that this hasn’t been going on longer.