Considerations for naming rights
Kentucky School Advocate
By Matt McCarty
There is no law requiring a policy for districts that sell naming rights, but KSBA’s policy department does have guidelines to assist districts.
Katrina Kinman, KSBA’s director of policy, said there are several model policy areas that need to be considered. Chapter five (construction and alteration of facilities) and chapter 10 (advertising in schools) of the district’s existing policy are two areas a board should pay attention to when offering naming rights to a business.
“They need to work with us because we need to determine the best location for the language, whether it’s under facilities or advertising,” she said. “It just depends on what the particular language they’re talking about using is.”
Kinman also encouraged districts to work closely with their board attorney to review all contracts.
McCracken County Schools Superintendent Brian Harper agrees that working with the board attorney on a contract is key. His district’s proposals include specifications of what is and isn’t allowable, such as no names with offensive language or that could be considered offensive, along with other restrictions set forth by state and federal guidelines.
“There are some drug-free/alcohol free school guidelines from the federal government,” Kinman said. “So, you have federal guidelines related to drug-free/alcohol free schools. You have Kentucky regulation – which also kind of follows the federal guidelines – for school nutrition about advertising for soft drinks and things that don’t have nutritional value. Once contracts run out then you shouldn’t be using those anymore.”
Christian County’s school board voted in November to begin selling naming rights. Chairwoman Linda Keller said the district’s request for proposals noted that it reserves the right to reject any or all bids.
“The sponsors will be responsible for the signage and installing it,” she said. “But the signage and whatnot would need to be approved through the board. We need to make sure it’s appropriate to put on the school buildings.
“We wouldn't want a big beer company,” Keller added. “We don't want to promote those kinds of things to our students. We appreciate the donation of any type, but it’s just in the best interest of students that you need to keep it appropriate for students. The policies that we already have in place, students cannot wear T-shirts and whatnot promoting places like that, so we would not do that on our buildings either.”
Kinman also cautioned against naming a facility after a living person.
“Think about some high-profile celebrity cases in the news in recent years,” she said. “It might be kind of embarrassing to have the name of a living person on your stadium and then they get into hot water for a particular activity.”
Pain Management Center has the naming rights for McCracken County High School’s library, which is named Manchikanti Library after a local doctor.
Harper said the district has an opt-out clause in its contracts.
“We could disassociate with (a business), but they could also disassociate with us,” he said. “So, having that clause in your contract is important. You may have a company doing really well, but years down the road, changes in leadership or change in management, and now they’re in financial trouble – they need out. Giving that flexibility is good for them and good for us.”
Harper said he doesn’t recall having two businesses submitting bids for the same facility, but it’s important to “let everyone have an opportunity to bid on them and make sure your board approves them.”
Districts also need to be aware of any financial or ethical conflicts an individual board member may have with a business, Kinman said. Awarding naming rights to a business that a board member has a vested interest in could be problematic.
A few years ago, a board member who owned a local restaurant was interested in naming rights, Harper said. “The advice from the board attorney was it just wouldn’t be a good practice,” he said.
Districts that use revenue from naming rights to improve athletic facilities or to buy new uniforms or equipment also need to follow Title IX guidelines.
“We have to keep that balance. We want to make it equal and fair to all of our students,” Keller said.
Harper said districts should do their homework before selling naming rights noting that there are a lot of resources, including high schools and universities that have experience with it.
“I just feel like it’s really a positive thing in the community if you get everything lined out on the front end of making sure you’re working with your board attorney and your board on the logistics,” he said.