Mt. Vernon High School athletic director Brandon Ecker has a few phone calls to make. Ecker’s goal is to find a partnership with a local business in exchange for the naming rights to the Mt. Vernon football stadium.
“We’re in our initial stages but we’re hoping to find a partner to make it mutually beneficial,” Ecker said. “With budget cuts, high school sports have to find a way to sustain themselves.”
Ecker’s plan might have raised eyebrows a decade ago. No longer. The Lawrence Township school district agreed to a five-year, $500,000 deal with Ed Martin Automotive Group at the end of August in exchange for the naming rights to the renovated football stadiums at Lawrence Central and Lawrence North scheduled for completion by the start of the 2017 season.
An idea that took root in the professional ranks — RCA paid $10 million in 1994 to put its name on the Hoosier Dome for 10 years — has trickled down to the high school level. Locally, it began with a $120,000 gift from Hare Chevrolet to Noblesville a decade ago to pay for the school’s artificial turf and has spreadto numerous other local schools, including Center Grove, Fishers, Westfield and Avon.
“It’s a trend we’re going to continue to see grow,” said Grant Nesbit, the Lawrence Township district director of athletics. “We’d like to branch out and name other areas of the campus as well. It could be someone with a connection to the school or a business locally or somebody who wants their name on it. It’s a source of revenue we can use.”
High school are searching for new avenues of revenue wherever they can find them. In 2009, the state legislature passed property tax caps and cut roughly $300 million from state funding in K-12 education amid a recession and sagging revenues. The cuts affected athletics as well, forcing some districts to institute “pay-to-play” or participation fees. Mt. Vernon cut its athletic director position entirely in 2011 because of budget constraints before hiring Ecker in 2015.
The drastic cuts caused districts to think outside the box for answers.
“When the property tax cuts hit in 2009, it really affected athletics,” said Nesbit, who was the athletic director at Lawrence North at the time. “Before 2008, the naming rights were almost unheard of. There was a time when most schools would have been against any advertising on buildings. But the bottom line is the bottom line. Schools had to get creative.”
Hare Chevrolet, owned by Noblesville graduates Dave Cox and Jackie Hare Cox, was the first corporate sponsor in Central Indiana to have its name on a football stadium. Hare Chevrolet contributed $120,000 over 10 years beginning in 2006 for the naming rights, and has one-year extension in place for $12,000 that will cover 2017.
Noblesville’s stadium, which opened in 1969 named for former superintendent Dale V. Swanson, is now known as Hare Chevrolet Field at Dale V. Swanson Sports Complex. Other schools also have attempted to mesh the old with the new.
In 1966, the Brownsburg school district approached local businessman and Brownsburg alum Fred Roark about contributing money for bleachers at its new football field. Roark bought bleachers from nearby Indianapolis Raceway Park, now Lucas Oil Raceway, to seat 600 fans. In turn, Brownsburg named the stadium – C.F. Roark Stadium – after him.
“My dad didn’t ask for that, but I know he appreciated it,” said son Ted Roark, now the president of C.F. Roark Welding and Engineering. “He was a three-sport athlete at the school (a 1942 graduate) and saw it as his way of helping and staying involved in the community. There wasn’t a long-term vision or anything like that.”
The Roark name has stayed on the stadium, even through recent upgrades. In 2012, Brownsburg entered a 10-year agreement with locally owned Bill Estes Ford for $44,000 a year, and it has an agreement with Hendricks Regional Health. Those partnerships covered two-thirds of the $2 million cost of renovations for the football stadium (press box, bleachers, turf). They were completed ahead of the 2013 season.
The Roarks also have stayed involved as financial supporters. The new name is C.F. Roark Stadium, BillEstes.com Field and Hendricks Regional Health Complex. Fred Roark, 93, attended a game at the renovated stadium last season.
“His name was on that stadium all those years and that’s something we wanted to continue,” Brownsburg Superintendent Jim Snapp said. “That’s part of the history here and we didn’t get any pressure to change that. He is a community-minded person.”
Roark’s business, which opened in 1949, is a supplier to companies such as Rolls Royce and General Electric, gains no commercial business from having its name associated with a football stadium. That stands in stark contrast to today’s naming rights model, which is pitched as a mutually beneficial relationship for the school and the company, often a car dealership or hospital.
Ray Skillman, who operates nine auto dealerships in Central Indiana, has been one of the most active businessmen in supporting high school athletics. Lawrence Central entered a five-year agreement with Skillman in 2013 for $500,000 for the naming rights to its football stadium. In 2012, Skillman pledged $100,000 per year for a total of $900,000 to underwrite the cost of Perry Stadium, which is shared by Southport and Perry Meridian.
In 2011, Center Grove was considering a participation fee for athletes — likely in the range of $170 per student — that would have generated more than $200,000 annually. Skillman stepped up, donating $210,000 per year over five years to the school.
“The participation fee was concerning to Mr. Skillman,” Center Grove Superintendent Richard Arkanoff said. “He came to us and wanted to help. The agreement then was to put up signs on our athletic fields around the high schools and middle schools and Ray Skillman would be the sole sponsorship for any vehicle.”
Just as that five-year deal was coming to a close, in March of this year, Center Grove’s home bleachers were deemed outdated and unsafe.
“He came to us again and said to dream big on the stadium and do what we need to do so this doesn’t need to be done again,” Arkanoff said.
Center Grove and Skillman agreed to a $1.9 million deal in full, which includes the naming rights over 50 years. Skillman will donate $1 million by the end of the school year, cover the $400,000 for the new press box and pay another $50,000 per year for the next 10 years.
Center Grove also has a deal dating to 2013 with IU Health as the school’s sports medicine provider. The 10-year contract is for $65,000 per year. The renovated stadium, which seats nearly 6,000, is now Ray Skillman Stadium/IU Health Field.
“There’s probably other ways (Skillman) could spend his money, but we’re grateful,” Arkanoff said. “As an advertisement, I think it’s a great investment. But it’s also about supporting kids and community.”
Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern sold their naming rights to Reynolds Farm Equipment, a longtime local business, in 2008 for a total of $400,000 over 10 years. The deal helped to cover the $1.4 million cost of new multipurpose turf fields at both schools. The schools also have a contract with IU Health as their exclusive health care provider.
Mike Reuter, chief financial officer for Hamilton Southeastern Schools, said there was no “cookie-cutter approach” to seeking sponsorships.
“Our deal with Reynolds is more of a community partnership,” Reuter said. “IU Health is more of a business deal. I don’t see it going away. At one time, schools weren’t much into advertising or promoting businesses, but we’ve had to get creative. We’ll be back out on the market in a couple years getting requests for proposals, looking for the best deals we can.”
Brebeuf Jesuit also has a partnership with a hospital, agreeing to a 25-year deal in 2010 with St. Vincent (St. Vincent Health Field). Avon announced this past month that it was entering a 10-year partnership with Andy Mohr Automotive valued at more than $1 million for naming rights to its athletic complex.
Westfield entered a naming rights deal with Riverview Health, another health care provider, for its new football stadium in 2014. Riverview will pay $1.2 million to the district over 10 years.
Westfield athletic director Bill Davis said the district could bring in as much as $300,000 in annual revenue if all of its naming rights are filled. In addition to the football stadium, Westfield has naming rights on its scoreboard (Estridge Family Foundation), soccer stadium (McGavic Outdoor Power), south entrance (EdgeRock Development), second-floor press box (New York Life), north entrance (CarX Tire & Auto), main gymnasium (CSI Signs) and west concessions (Gerber Collision & Glass).
Davis said annual naming rights revenue is currently about $190,000. The agreements are for either five or 10 years, depending on the agreement with the respective companies.
“It is designed to be a long-term revenue source for our corporation,” Davis said. “The naming rights are being used to offset the cost of construction and will be used in the future for maintenance of the facility and other areas in the district where needs arise.”
Nesbit said Lawrence Township approached businesses and requested proposals for naming rights in the same manner it would request proposals for a construction project. The district ultimately agreed to a five-year deal with Ed Martin, a longtime supporter of Lawrence schools.
At Mt. Vernon, Ecker is hopeful that the district can secure a partnership. Ecker was previously the athletic director at New Castle, which agreed in February to name its football field after local businessman Randy Neal in exchange for a $250,000 donation toward a new artificial turf field.
“We have to find unique ways to market ourselves now,” Ecker said. “We’re a smaller community but we’re close enough to Hamilton and Marion County to branch out. It makes sense to bring an extra buck or two where you can.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.
Stadium names with a story
Not all of the high school football stadiums in the area have a name. Or some are generic (Hornet Stadium at Beech Grove). Others have a more interesting background. Here is a sampling:
Pendleton Heights: Has a generic name (Arabian Field) for now. But it will be renamed John Broughton Field on Friday for the man who was coach from 1976 to 2015.
Arlington: Arlington Stadium isn’t a unique name, but the background is interesting. Parents formed the Arlington Community Athletic Association in 1965 and sold memberships for $1, solicited and accepted contributions and sold “Knight Stamps” to finance a new football stadium. The ACAA financed the entire stadium, which opened in 1967 at a cost of $200,000.
Broad Ripple: Edgar F. Diederich Memorial Field is named after the former athletic director, basketball coach and football coach. Diederich was the first football coach from 1929-48. He died unexpectedly in 1949. The field was dedicated to him on Nov. 10, 1950. The Class of 1952 donated a stone monument located at the north end of the football field.
Pike: George C. Grosskopf Stadium is named after the standout athlete at Shortridge and Huntington University before a long tenure as a teacher, coach and athletic director at Pike. He is a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Manual: The Ray Schultz Athletic Complex is named after the 1959 Manual graduate who was the longtime football coach (1963-85) and athletic director (1985-96) at the school.
Shelbyville: J.M. McKeand Stadium is named for the man who initiated the football program at the school in 1927 and coached until 1953. The stadium was named after him in 1971, the year he retired from teaching.
Decatur Central: Devere Fair Stadium is named after the former science teacher and football, wrestling and baseball coach at the school. Decatur Central’s football team was undefeated in 1968, ’69 and ’70 under Fair, who stayed at the school from 1965-93 in various roles. He is a member of the Indiana Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
Lawrence North:On Sept. 3, 1983, the stadium was officially named for Dwaine C. Bell at halftime of the Lawrence North-Lawrence Central game. After an eight-year battle with cancer, Bell was forced to take a leave of absence in June 1983. He died on Oct. 22, 1983. A year later, the Wildcat Athletic Mothers Organization donated a brass bell to ring for every point scored in remembrance of Bell.
Martinsville: Bill Siderewicz Field is named after longtime coach in Indiana Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
Triton Central: Bud Mendenhall was the first football coach at Triton Central. Taught at school for close to 50 years.
Monrovia: Gordon Hadley coordinated the completion of the field in 1967. He died on Nov. 14, 2004, and the field was dedicated to him the following season.
New Palestine: Robert Kelso was the longtime principal at the school and Marvin Shepler won 200 games at New Pal from 1968-2001. Shepler is in his 49th year as a teacher at the school. The stadium is named after Kelso and the field after Shepler.