PROSPER — AT&T, American Airlines and Globe Life aren't the only corporations that have their names attached to palatial sports venues in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The Dallas Morning News reports health care systems, banks and auto dealerships have joined the naming-rights game as local school districts — just like D-FW's professional sports teams — are profiting off their stadiums. In some cases statewide, high school football stadiums have become cash cows that net millions of dollars.
Texas has been mocked nationally for building multiple high school stadiums that cost upward of $60 million. But school districts are getting the last laugh by using their football facilities to bring in funds to offset costs and provide for students.
Research by The Dallas Morning News found nearly 20 school districts statewide that have awarded naming rights for their football stadium, the field within the stadium or their athletic complex. The Prosper Independent School District is the latest, opening the $53 million Children's Health Stadium.
"I think the biggest thing is what our Senate and our Legislature did with (school) funding," Prosper ISD athletic director Valerie Little said. "You get to a point where school districts have to be creative. When your local population is having to take on 75% of the funding for your school district, do we put that burden on our people and hike up our tax rate? Or do we find different ways to go out and hopefully supplement that?
"Our budget is fine, but I would guess in some of your smaller districts, that is probably why they are doing it."
There are risks involved when partnering with a corporation. The Houston Astros are an infamous example, as they paid to get out of a naming-rights agreement after a scandal brought down Enron Corp., which at the time had its name on the Astros' stadium.
Children's Health, the nation's eighth-largest pediatric health care system, secured naming rights by agreeing to a 10-year deal. Information obtained through open records shows that Children's Health will pay $2.5 million — $250,000 per year — to Prosper ISD.
"Naming rights of high school stadiums is a very regional activity," said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-based sports consulting firm. "At least for now, it is a Texas phenomenon. You see a little bit in Florida, a little bit in Arizona."
Spending small fortunes for those rights is also a Texas phenomenon. Just look at Pennsylvania, where Market Street Sports Group works with school districts to line up stadium deals.
"We've been able to sell stadiums for 10-year deals, anywhere between $15,000 and $20,000 a year," said Jeff Bertoni, the company's president of sales. "You have kind of a unique situation going on in Texas, where they're getting multimillion-dollar deals for their sponsorships of their stadiums."
PlainsCapital Bank is paying Lubbock ISD $3 million over 10 years for naming rights to the football stadium, and the money helped pay for $18 million in stadium renovations. Academy Sports + Outdoors is paying Katy ISD $2.5 million over 10 years to have its name attached to the school district's student activities complex that encompasses $72.2 million Legacy Stadium and the adjacent Rhodes Stadium.
High-priced high school stadiums are funded by big-money bond packages. So why are school districts making naming-rights deals like colleges and pro franchises?
"Funding is always being cut, and there is always talks of cutting programs," Bertoni said. "This is certainly a way to allow the districts to monetize their programs and save their programs through an alternative stream of revenue."
School districts don't limit their options.
Bidding for the naming rights to Prosper's stadium was open to anyone, Little said. Conroe ISD used its online e-bidding system and website, along with local newspapers, to seek naming-rights bids — 113 vendors were invited — before agreeing to a $1 million, 10-year stadium deal with Woodforest National Bank.
Sports sponsorships used to be a simple way for local companies to get their name on little-league jerseys or in-game programs. Naming rights provide a broader sponsorship that can be seen on signage throughout the stadium, and the advertising reaches a larger audience through media reports that mention the stadium name and events other than football games that are held at the venue.
The name Children's Health is quite visible in Prosper's 12,000-seat stadium, adorning a 57-by-63-foot scoreboard, video boards on the home and visitor sides and sideline equipment such as a covered medical tent. A sign near the stadium's main entrance proclaims Children's Health as the "Proud Partner of Prosper ISD."
"It is 24/7 advertising for them," Little said. "You have a huge stadium that 12,000 people are going to. It's right in the middle of town; everyone sees it."
Mansfield ISD has a 10-year, $575,000 sponsorship agreement with Mansfield Methodist Hospital. The hospital's name is prominently displayed at Vernon Newsom Stadium — on the exterior of the stadium, on the face of the press box and on signage around the stadium complex. Mansfield Methodist also has advertising at the district's older stadium, R.L. Anderson.
"It's a way for a business to show that they are embedded in a community," Mansfield ISD athletic director Philip O'Neal said. "It's a way for a business to show that they are not just about what it is they do in their particular world, but they are about being philanthropic. In our case, they are supporting the students of Mansfield."
Football stadiums are generating the revenue. School districts, not athletic departments, benefit financially.
Southwest Ford secured naming rights to the field within Royse City's stadium last year, agreeing to pay $25,000 annually over three years, and this year it will be called Donaghe Ford Field at Royse City ISD Stadium after the auto dealership changed names. The bulk of that money goes into the district's general fund, which is the same way stadium sponsorships work in Prosper, Mansfield and Allen.
City Bank gained the naming rights to Forney ISD's football stadium in 2003, but instead of giving money to the district, City Bank provided a low interest rate on a loan that saved the district a significant amount of money. In 2018, the sides agreed to a 15-year extension, and this time City Bank made a donation of $250,000 to Forney ISD.
Children's Health will have physicians on the sideline at Prosper varsity football games to assist athletic trainers with medical evaluations, and those physicians are available for other Prosper ISD sporting events if needed. Children's Health placed a portable X-ray machine at the stadium, and the partnership gives Prosper ISD students and coaches access to technology and services from Children's Health Andrews Institute, including free, on-campus athlete assessments.
The naming-rights deal made Children's Health the official pediatric health care provider for Prosper ISD. The entire student population has access to school-based telehealth and telebehavioral health sessions, which have associated charges.
"The stadium is a great launching point to have a formalized relationship from the sponsorship standpoint, but we're really interested in how we can serve the Prosper community and set an example for other communities for what health care services children should have access to," said Chad Gilliland, senior director of the Children's Health Andrews Institute.
Is there a downside?
Purdue professor of communication Josh Boyd, who studies stadium naming rights, said sponsors must be able to justify the expense and see a payoff to make it worth it. A bigger problem is if either side becomes embroiled in a controversy that could adversely affect the other by association.
That is why the Astros paid $2.1 million in 2002 to buy back the naming rights for their stadium after Enron Corp. went bankrupt.
Naming-rights deals have become a growing trend at the high school level the past five years, Boyd said. That means fewer stadiums are being named after a revered coach, a beloved player or the school mascot.
Local companies will advertise with a school district because it benefits their kids. Just don't expect to see Pepsi Stadium or Nike Field, because "once that national sponsor commits to one district somewhere, then they get thousands of calls from around the country," Bertoni said.
Allen ISD's $59.6 million Eagle Stadium and the $69.9 million McKinney ISD Stadium are the two most expensive football stadiums in D-FW, but neither school district pursued naming-rights deals. Allen ISD athletic director Steve Williams said in the case of 18,000-seat Eagle Stadium, it was because "we never received anything that we thought was worth changing the name for."
But when Eagle Stadium opened in 2012, Allen ISD did contract with PPI Marketing — a sports business firm co-founded by Cowboys legend Roger Staubach — to line up stadium sponsors that paid $35,000 annually for a minimum three-year commitment. LST Marketing now handles those sponsorships, and the current 11 stadium sponsors pay $25,000 a year.
Allen's sponsorship list includes a hospital system, automotive partner, memory-care facility, soft drink, car-care company, credit union and a college. LST Marketing director of sports Kris Cumnock said only one sponsor is allowed per category rather than taking what he calls a "NASCAR approach" and accepting any advertiser willing to pay.
It is easy to see why companies want to advertise at Eagle Stadium, the home of a five-time state championship football team and the place where star quarterback Kyler Murray became a household name before winning a Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma and becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft. But stadium advertising was a part of AISD football long before Allen became Texas' largest high school.
"Even in the 1970s, Allen ISD had sponsors for the stadium," Allen ISD chief information officer Tim Carroll said. "It's just a bigger scale (now) because of the stadium size."
At Eagle Stadium, sponsors get their name on a 75-by-45-foot scoreboard that's just one of the many places in Texas where advertisers can get a lot of bang for their bucks.
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com