Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Has Found No Takers For Corporate Sponsor Program

In July, reeling from state budget cuts, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department came up with a surefire way to make a bit of extra scratch: corporate sponsorships.

The proposal didn't include naming rights -- no British Petroleum State Park at Galveston Island, for example -- but companies who paid at least $100,000 could get their name and logo prominently displayed on plaques, press releases, agency publications and elsewhere.

Darcy Bontempo, TDWP's marketing director, told Unfair Park at the time that she was confident the program would be a success. The agency had long been approached by companies interested in sponsorships, but "we've never been able to offer this kind of suite of benefits before."

Her optimism seems to have been premature. The Austin American-Statesman reports this morning that the program has attracted exactly zero bites since it was rolled out six months ago.

It wasn't for lack of trying: The department contacted the 2,267 vendors on its standard bidding list -- but the vendors were interested in selling something to the department, not giving it money. A department intern spent the summer contacting marketing directors at 750 companies -- such as Yahoo! and Southern Living magazine -- but those folks were chiefly interested in offering the department special deals on advertising.

Bontempo blamed the program's slow start on restrictive state procurement rules designed to create a level playing field for vendors seeking to win a contract to sell things to the government. Those rules prohibit, among other things, one-on-one contact between companies and employees of a state agency.

"It's not consistent with how [potential sponsors] normally do business," Bontempo told the Statesman. "You couldn't negotiate in the best interests of both parties."

The agency has amended its rules in an attempt to circumvent the obstacle, allowing employees to negotiate corporate partnerships and licensing agreements without a competitive bidding process upon approval by the executive director. So, the idea's not dead yet.

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