Selling the Sidelines

April 26, 2015

The following article appears in the April/May 2015 issue of Athletic Management.

In 2012, the NFHS passed legislation that removed restrictions on advertising around football fields, opening up a new revenue stream for high school athletic departments. The Belleville (Ill.) School District has taken advantage of the new rule, successfully selling ad space on the sideline area of its two high schools’ football fields.

Looking to update the synthetic turf on the combined soccer/football fields at both Belleville East and Belleville West High Schools, but not wanting to use tax payer dollars, the district turned to local businesses. It offered ads measuring 7 by 10 feet that are sewn directly into the turf at a cost of $12,000, and has sold 26 so far on each field. The program has brought in more than $600,000—almost half of the project’s estimated $1.4 million cost.

District Superintendent Jeff Dosier says there were a few important determinations to be made up front. “Our biggest concern was that the ads would dominate the fields, which would make them look like old-time minor-league baseball stadiums,” he says. “But our project engineer felt if we kept the ads at 70 square feet, they would be clearly visible from the stands and the press box without being overpowering.”

Figuring out the location of the ads was another critical step. “We decided to put them on the home sidelines, from the 30-yard lines to beyond the end zones, where there would not be any benches or players over them,” Dosier says. “That gives the ads exposure to the most fans, and allows for 30 on each field.”

Once the logistics were settled, the sales effort began. The district invited local business owners to a pair of public fundraising dinners as a chance to pitch the unique advertising opportunity.

“We had Bob Goalby, a Belleville grad and former professional golfer and Masters champion, speak at the events,” Dosier says. “His connections brought other high-profile names, like [Hall of Fame Shortstop] Ozzie Smith, to the dinners. We had 400 people attend each one.

“The pitch was relatively easy,” he continues. “Because the ads can be paid for over five years, the cost is only $200 a month, which is pretty affordable for most businesses. We sweetened the deal by including a sign on the stadium fence and an ad in our game programs. The response has been better than we anticipated. Most companies we’ve approached have bought space on both fields.”

The ads themselves are made by an outside company and then woven into the turf. The sponsors can pick any design they want, and it can be changed before the five years are up for a small fee. While a few national chains, such as Chick-fil-A, have spots, most are filled by local businesses and simply include the company’s name and logo.

The fields and sideline ads were installed at the same time, in late 2014, and have been well received. “We only had one football game on one of them last fall, but the companies seem pleased, and no one has complained about how it looks,” Dosier says. “While the schools’ booster clubs and athletic teams still have to generate the remaining money, this project proves that if you think outside the box, your community will support you.”


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