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Education Reporter

Corporate Naming Rights Catch On
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Public schools have discovered a new source of revenue in the sale of naming rights to corporate sponsors. The trend began some three years ago, when the Alice Costello Elementary School in Brooklawn, NJ named its gymnasium after ShopRite for payments totalling $100,000 over 20 years.

Similar deals have sprouted across the country. Three Texas high schools sold naming rights to their football stadiums for more than $1 million to a bank, a health care provider and a communications company. A $500,000 donation will give a credit union a big stadium sign at a Florida high school. A Chicago suburban high school has agreed to name its athletic field after Rust-Oleum.

Mimicking strategies used in professional sports, advertising now appears on tickets to school sports events, scoreboards, billboards in end zones, gym walls, locker rooms and buses carrying teams. Companies are allowed to sponsor specific home games. (New York Times, 10-18-04)

Some critics decry the effect on kids of the commercialization of school food and beverage service — which is dominated by soda, junk food and fast food companies — and suggest that Pepsi ads don't belong in the football stadium. (See related article on the Channel One ad controversy in Alabama.) There is also the danger that money from legal vices, such as alcohol, tobacco or gambling, will buy advertising in schools. That hasn't happened so far and probably won't, given the existence of laws to protect minors from such activities.

However, names that sound respectable at the time of payment can bite the educational institution later, as the University of Missouri-Columbia discovered. The flagship state university has a still-vacant economics chair which was financed by and named for former Enron chief Kenneth Lay long before he was indicted in the collapse of his energy company.

Even more embarrassing, the same university named its basketball arena the Paige Sports Arena after the daughter of Wal-Mart heiress Nancy Laurie and her husband Bill, who donated $25 million toward the $75 million construction cost. Paige Laurie never attended the university, a fact that raised eyebrows initially. But it got worse.

Last November, allegations surfaced that Paige Laurie had cheated her way through the University of Southern California by paying a roommate about $20,000 to do some of her academic work. Fortunately for the university, her parents quickly gave up the arena naming rights and the university renamed the venue Mizzou Arena.

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