In April director Morgan Spurlock came to the Dallas International Film Festival to show his sponsored-from-start-to-finish documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, after which he and I engaged in a little post-screening Q&A at the Magnolia. During our chitchat, I asked him about a sequence in the film concerning budget-beleaguered schools in Florida that had sold to advertisers every available space, from chain-link fences to school buses. He was, from a distance, skeptical if not critical of the decision. I asked why -- why, in the midst of such a mammoth budget shortfall shouldn't the Dallas Independent School District wrap its buses in advertisers' logos or sell its stadiums' naming rights to the highest bidder?
Thankfully, Gadi Elkon of Pearl Snap Discount was there to capture that bit of our talk:
Morgan Spurlock: "But what comes with that? It's not just wrapping buses. There are things that come with that. It's never that simple. ... What we want to believe is that's the answer, and it's not. It's never, 'Well, we'll do this one thing, and that's all that will happen. We'll do that one thing. Then we'll put our machines in your schools ...'
Me: "But they already are in schools ..."
M.S.: "But they'll be more things: 'We're gonna get rid of other products. There'll be more opportunities. There will be more advertising. We want posters in the schools. We want to make sure people know where we are.' There will be more steps that I think will happen beyond just one. One will lead to five. It's a question: Are we going to live in a time where your kid goes to Red Bull High? That's what we're talking about. We're talking about letting corporate interests come into every day of your life things where they shouldn't normally be. Are we living in a time where there are such budget shortfalls, where we have such money problems, that, fine, the people with the money, the corporations, let's just let them pay for everything?"
That answer, in the case of the DISD, might just be: Yes. Already the city of Dallas is looking for companies to sponsors soccer facilities and anything else with a blank canvas. And, last night, at the DISD board meeting during which trustees approved next school year's carved-up budget, Mike Morath suggested the district follow City Manager Mary Suhm's lead and consider selling naming rights to stadiums and other facilities. Perhaps Alfred J. Loos Field House could become Lowe's Field House? Or maybe ... Lincoln Property High? Or how about W.T. White Castle?
The thing is, during yesterday's school board meeting the trustees approved, on their consent agenda, renaming the Pleasant Grove Practice Field to the Starter Field at Pleasant Grove, so rebranded for the sporting-goods manufacturer for which Tony Romo's a spokesman. As KXAS-Channel 5 noted in February, "Starter refurbished the formerly-dilapidated field, providing it with a new scoreboard, ticket booth, bleachers and fencing, as well as soccer balls, basketballs and apparel, including hats and shirts."
District and city officials had hoped to unveil the new facility during Super Bowl week festivities, but the celebrity wingding was buried beneath the ice and snow.
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And, during yesterday's meeting, plans to rename several school facilities for local notables were quashed; so much for the Dwaine R. Caraway Media Center at Roosevelt High. DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander told me this morning the board thought: Why give away these privileges when surely there might be someone out there -- a company, an individual -- willing to pay for the naming rights.
"Look at the success we had at Arts Magnet," he says. "Nancy Hamon gave $10 million, and part of the school was renamed for her. There is precedent within the district and other school districts. It makes sense, particularly when budgets are especially tight and when we're trying to save positions. Something like this makes sense to explore."
The DISD board, like the Dallas City Council, will not meet in July. And, round midnight this morning, trustee Eric Cowan suggested tabling the discussion till a later date -- some time around the winter break, maybe. At that point, or perhaps before, says Dahlander, the board will "move forward with the possibility of having naming rights available, providing individuals and corporations with the possibility of buying naming rights."
The Starter deal, he says, was just the start, if you will. "Perhaps that was the beginning of something that could work out to really financially benefit the school district and various schools in the long run."