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Lancaster County school district signs up 15 sponsors

| Monday, April 22, 2013, 12:16 a.m.

When the Black Knights of Hempfield High School in Lancaster County play home football games, their stadium can be intimidating.

After all, playing in The Georgelis Law Firm Stadium might make opposing coaches wary of arguing an official's call without an attorney on their sideline.

But, of course, that's not why the school district has a law firm's name on the structure.

The reason has more to do with what the firm was willing to pay for that privilege. According to Dan Forry, the school district's director of enterprise and operations, it amounted to $120,000 over a five-year period.

On the district's website, there is a link to Hempfield's sponsors showing about 15 companies and listing what each company sponsors. A real estate firm sponsors the baseball and softball fields. Lancaster Toyota sponsors the high school tennis courts. An electrical company sponsors the stadium press boxes, while an orthopedic group sponsors the training room. Even the high school cafeteria has the name of a sponsor on it, the Wheatland Credit Union.

“I think the faculty and the community have come to understand that, ‘Hey we can't take anything off the table in this environment,'” Forry said. “Everything has some naming rights to it.”

Those sponsors, some 15 businesses from around or near the district, have paid tens of thousands of dollars to the district over the past six years. In exchange, they get the right to put their names on school facilities or signs advertising their business in those facilities, for set periods agreed to under contracts with the district.

Audrey Guskey, a marketing professor and consumer expert at Duquesne University, said the companies are hoping the money paid for sponsorships pays off by forming a connection with those who see their names regularly.

“It's a matter of visibility and exposure,” she said. “If I have a son who is on the football team and I go to the games and, say there are 10 games, and I'm going and I am seeing this every week, it becomes kind of subliminal. It blends into the landscape but it registers something in the back of your mind.”

Guskey said that stadium naming rights, in particular, have become very trendy among companies. When a stadium bearing a corporate name becomes a household name, she said it is huge for that company.

“Sure, when you think about Consol Energy Center, Heinz Field, PNC Park, of course it has a big effect,” she said.

When compared to what a company might spend on a TV advertising campaign, she said buying naming rights can be very cost-effective as well.

“To be honest with you, I think they price it (naming rights) too low,” Guskey said. “I think the companies usually get a pretty good deal.”

She noted that during TV and radio broadcasts, those companies names are repeatedly mentioned because that is where the games are being played. The same is true for stories that are written about teams and games by print journalists.

In the case of high school-based sponsorships, it can form a kind of community bond. “If you love your high school team and you have an organization sponsor it, it is like a gift,” she said.

Forry said that type of bonding between the sponsors, the school district and the public has happened at Hempfield. He said all of the sponsors are local either from within the district or close by.

“We called them sponsorships but they have evolved into partnerships,” he said. “It has really gone beyond that marketing revenue to getting some of the students involved.”

Sponsors have chipped in to help students with food drives for the needy and contributed money or services to a school fund to help the district's low income families. A local retirement and senior care community sponsors the school district's senior citizens programs, and the Wheatland Credit Union has even opened a branch in the school cafeteria it sponsors where students can work part time, according to Forry.

“We've gotten some very positive feedback from the sponsors where they feel they get some marketing value for their dollars but also know that they are putting the money back into the schools,” Forry said.

There is a set time limit for each contract and he said each sponsor is given the opportunity to renew before others are contacted. Also, each sponsor gets something else: exclusivity.

“We have category exclusivity so that if we have a real estate firm or a car dealer, they are going to be the only one in that category to advertise,” Forry said.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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