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Schools gain interest in name game

| Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Soon, PNC Park won't be the only local stadium named for a bank.

The Seneca Valley School District will rename its high school football field NexTier Stadium as part of a 10-year, $50,000 deal with the Evans City bank.

The deal is a first in the state, but might not be the last, say Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association officials.

"I think schools with their budgets are always looking for ways to offset their expenses to keep athletics as part of their programs," PIAA Assistant Executive Director Mark Byers said.

Seneca Valley plans to set aside the money to pay for the replacement of recently installed stadium turf -- purchased last year for $640,000 and expected to wear out in about a decade, district Athletic Director Greg Caprara said.

The field in Jackson, Butler County, previously was named Raider Stadium -- after the school mascot.

Professional and college sports teams began selling stadium-naming rights in the 1990s -- the Pirates and Steelers caught on in 2001 with the opening of PNC Park and Heinz Field -- but the trend is only starting to bloom at public schools.

In recent years, three high schools in football-crazed Texas sold stadium-naming rights for more than $1 million each. Schools in Illinois, Virginia and Washington state also have cut naming-rights deals.

For pro teams, millions of dollars in rights money help offset the cost of building expensive new stadiums.

For most high schools, such as Vernon Hills in suburban Chicago -- home of Rust-Oleum Field -- the pacts rarely top six figures but provide some badly needed cash for athletic directors juggling tight budgets.

"It's very costly to run a lot of these athletic events," said Jim Collins, administrative assistant at the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League.

"The biggest expense we find is the cost of security," an issue that districts are taking more seriously -- and spending more money on -- since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he said.

North Hills School District in 2004 approved a policy allowing the sale of naming rights to school facilities for 15 percent of their costs, but the district has yet to reach any deals. Mt. Lebanon School District has a rights policy, but it does not address corporate sponsorship.

"It certainly would help the district financially by providing non-tax dollars to assist it in the maintenance of facilities or perhaps the development of new facilities," Mt. Lebanon Superintendent George Wilson said. "The major concern would be ... there could always be that allegation that the district is in some way selling out, and that's why we would have to consider very carefully an offer that came from a corporation."

Caprara, of Seneca Valley, agreed.

"You want to be very careful of the association of schools and commercialism," he said.

The Seneca Valley School Board, which approved the NexTier deal Monday, came up with the idea after purchasing artificial turf for the football field, district spokeswoman Linda Andreassi said. The board selected NexTier because the bank was anxious to move on the idea and partly because of the strong ties it has with the district, she said.

Former bank President Samuel "Buzz" Irvine played football at Evans City High School -- which later became part of Seneca Valley. And Margaret Irvine Weir, his daughter and current bank president, attended Seneca Valley.

Building name recognition is of particular importance to NexTier. Founded as Citizens National Bank in 1878, NexTier was renamed last year after a protracted legal battle with Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania over the use of the Citizens name.

NexTier has 18 branches and assets of $450 million, while Cleveland-based Citizens has 400 branches and assets of $28 billion.

"I think it's a great thing to do for the school," NexTier Marketing Manager Patricia Perhacs said. "It's a huge help for them financially, and we like to do it because it's an opportunity to represent NexTier to future generations."

A NexTier Stadium sign will hang over the main entrance to the stadium, which also will feature a logo bar on the visiting bleachers and flags bearing the bank logo.

The key to making such deals work is community support, said Jay Engeln of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

"On both sides, you need to look at any kind of contractual agreement to make sure that it is appropriate," he said. "I think it can be done in an appropriate way that is not taking advantage of kids. It is really a way of supporting the community."

Additional Information:

Naming their price

The sale of naming rights to high school sports stadiums is a rarity, but the trend is growing. A sampling of other stadium deals:

Stadium - Location - Amount

Rust-Oleum Field - Vernon Hills, Ill. - $100,000

Sunset Chevy Stadium - Sumner, Wash. - $504,000

Moore Cadillac Stadium - Falls Church, Va. - $50,000

Easter Financial Florida Credit Union Stadium - Broward County, Fla. - $500,000

Trinity Mother of Frances Rose Stadium - Tyler, Texas - $1.92 million

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