School Committee Question of the Week: Should Schools Adopt A Naming Rights Policy

Photo: from left, Murat Bicer, Kimberly O’Mahony, Andrea Prestwich

This week’s Question of the Week for the School Committee:

Many school districts have embracing naming rights on school district-owned property. Naming rights occur when a company or firm purchases the right to place its name and/or logo on a facility or event for a defined period of time. The TD Garden – the sports arena in Boston where the professional teams play – is a nearby example. School districts around the country are moving in this direction – recently Aspen, Colorado – with some agreements reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, mostly to name athletic facilities (or ads on the side of school buses) after a local firm. The money from the namings is mostly targeted towards long-term financial goals. Q: Where do you stand on establishing a naming rights policy for Belmont and would you promote it?

Murat Bicer

The question of selling naming rights to companies to bring in revenue to our district deserves strong consideration. The Financial Task Force report published in early 2015 points to naming rights as a possible source of funds, and lays out a number of critical questions that need to be answered satisfactorily either in by-laws or in any contract with corporate sponsors. I agree that each of these questions is important. I also believe the process by which we develop by-laws and consider sponsors should be transparent and include community participation. The people of Belmont want a healthy school district.  The Committee and district need to have open, cordial, and continual discussions with residents on how to make that happen.  We’re lucky to have generous local businesses who already support our schools through partnerships with the Foundation for Belmont Education, through the performing arts, and on the athletic fields. I commend the FTF for thinking carefully about expanding these partnerships.

Kimberly O’Mahony

Establishing a naming rights policy for Belmont could be a creative way to increase revenue for the District. That being said, specific rules would need to apply to ensure the sponsor’s message agrees with the message of the schools. There are certain categories of companies that would not be suitable such as alcohol or tobacco. Belmont would need to recognize the incredible value it would be providing the sponsor by offering exposure to a new generation of consumers, and realize the proper compensation for that exposure. There would be many other considerations to take into account when creating such a policy, but I would not be against investigating it as an option for Belmont.

Andrea Prestwich

Belmont schools face significant financial challenges in the next few years, including construction of a new High School. Given this reality, I think we should be open to “name rights” deals on big-ticket items. However, before we go down this road the School Committee needs to craft careful policies pertaining to naming rights.  We obviously do not want to name a facility for a tobacco company or gun manufacturers. We also need to protect ourselves from so-called first amendment lawsuits if we reject a sponsor, for example, the Klu Klux Klan won the right to be included in an “Adopt a Highway” program in Missouri. We need to be able to withdraw from a deal if it turns sour. What if we named the new new High School gymnasium for a sports clothing manufacturer who later was discovered to be using child labor? 

One of the most significant downsides to commercial naming is that we lose a sense of community ownership. Think of Joey’s Park or the pool. We could have “sold” the naming rights to these facilities.   Thanks to the vision of a few local leaders, they were rebuilt with the participation of the whole community, including local businesses. The impact of such “barn raising” efforts goes far beyond a new pool and playground. They contribute to a sense of pride in, and ownership of, our town. They encourage us all to be good citizens. My preference is to keep Belmont schools owned by a partnership of citizens and local  businesses rooted in our community.
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