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City schools make play for corporate sponsorship of athletics

Department of Education seeks proposals from sports-marketing firms to bring in revenue from advertisers

This gym class brought to you by our sponsor?

That could be the future for New York City public school students, if a Department of Education effort comes to fruition.

The agency intends to seek sponsorship deals for public school physical education programs and the Public School Athletic League, a solicitation released on Thursday revealed.

The department announced that it is seeking a sports marketing firm to “develop a coherent marketing/business plan to attract paying sponsors to promote and/or merchandise goods and services” that are “centered on” PSAL and public school physical education programs.

The Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

If a firm is selected, it would receive a five-year contract, with the option for a one-year extension.

PSAL runs varsity athletics in the city high schools, with more than 37,000 participants in 22 sports, according to the PSAL website.

Public school basketball all-stars in the 2012 Mayor’s Cup showdown. Private company logos might in the future enter the game. Photo: Marbleplay.com/Flickr

Public school basketball all-stars in the 2012 Mayor’s Cup showdown. Private company logos might in the future enter the game. Photo: Marbleplay.com/Flickr

This isn’t the first time the Department of Education has flirted with corporate sponsorship. In 2012, it posted a similar solicitation for an athletic apparel, footwear, or equipment company to sponsor the city’s high school and middle school sports teams.

The department also had a two-year revenue-generating arrangement with Cablevision to broadcast PSAL games; that has now expired.

And most famously, in 2003, the city struck a $166 million deal with the beverage company Snapple, with vending machines in the city’s public schools that exclusively sold Snapple-brand water and juice. The deal promised a minimum of $40.2 million to the department and an additional minimum of $3 million per year for PSAL programs.

According to the Daily News, school income from Snapple during the five-year deal fell several million dollars short of that commitment.

The city’s revenue budget does not currently reflect any income to the Department of Education from sports sponsorships, according to the the Independent Budget Office.

One firm already approached by the city is Leverage Agency, whose slogan is “the power to influence” and specializes in bringing corporate logos onto the sports field. Kevin McIntyre, executive vice president and general manager says he isn’t surprised to see New York City schools in the arena. “It’s been done before, with the Snapple deal,” he noted.

In evaluating the new opportunity, said McIntyre, “We will look at the assets available in the school system, the number of students and parents, and other eyeballs our advertising elements could garner, and break it down in a cost-value analysis.”

The picture looks very different to some advocates for young people.

Josh Golin, associate director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a national advocacy group, said the monetary benefits of such deals are small compared to the psychological effects on children when they are forced to see or wear ads in school.

“Sports should be part of the school curriculum, but we have to find a way to do it without selling out kids,” Golin said.

Even where such promotions are limited to high schools, said Golin, teens are highly susceptible to peer pressure.

“Schools should be teaching kids to resist that kind of pressure, not capitalizing on it so that kids will get the shoes that the popular athletes are wearing,” Golin said.

Louise Dewast contributed reporting. This story has been updated to indicate that Leverage Agency has been contacted by city government.

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