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Reading Eagle Features Corporate Partnership Program in Berks County
BERKS COUNTY - On May 29th, 2011 The Reading Eagle ran a story featuring Market Street Sports Group's corporate partnership efforts in Berks County, PA. For information on becoming a corporate sponsor of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, the Big 33 Football Classic, the Farm Show Complex or any of our school district partners please contact Jason Jesberger, President of Marketing at 1-717-509-2803.

More Berks school districts eye sponsorships to boost revenue

Muhlenberg, Mifflin latest to look into issue; Lancaster firm matches schools, advertisers
By Liam Migdail-Smith
Reading Eagle

As cash-strapped Berks County school districts look for new revenue sources, some are considering sponsorships as part of that strategy.

The Muhlenberg and Gov. Mifflin school boards have recently talked about setting up ways for companies, people or groups to sponsor school facilities.

"There's no way we can turn our back on any source of revenue at this point," Gov. Mifflin board President James D. Ulrich said at a recent meeting.

Jeff Bertoni and Jason Jesberger - a pair of former schoolteachers turned minor league baseball advertising coordinators - went into business pairing school districts and sponsors in 2006.

Interest in their Lancaster-based company, Market Street Sports Group, has taken off because of the stress on school district budgets.

"When we first started out, we would get a call once a month or so," Bertoni said. "Now, I think we get calls once a week."

It's not surprising, he said, since revenue losses are leaving districts with unpopular choices such as cutting staff and programs, or raising taxes.

"People realize that they have a choice to make," Bertoni said. "We can either cut JV sports or we can bring advertisers on our campus and partner with corporations that support our kids."

Market Street representatives are planning to attend a Gov. Mifflin meeting June 13 to discuss a sponsorship program. The company does the legwork in soliciting sponsors in exchange for a 30 percent cut.

Bertoni said programs tend to start small and grow as the district establishes itself with advertisers. Districts he's working with are bringing in $25,000 to $120,000 annually, he said.

The Wilson School District has spent four years establishing its program. The district worked with Market Street to get the effort off the ground but now runs its own program.

Wilson has brought in close to $160,000 from sponsorships since it started, and is expecting just more than $7,000 more to roll in soon, based on existing contracts.

Companies typically sponsor a school facility. For example, Spotts Insurance Group sponsors the Wilson tennis courts, Bayada Nurses sponsors the high school nurse's office, and The Floral Studio sponsors technical education and graphic design labs.

Perks for companies can include naming rights to the facility, having information booths at some school events and having commercials read at sporting events.

"We want them to feel very good about being a part of Wilson," said district spokeswoman Tracy Caputo Markle, who organizes the program.

Pie shrinking?

If more school districts are hoping to open their facilities to sponsors, they may have to act quickly. It's not just schools that are tightening their belts, and competition for advertising dollars could be fierce.

"It's definitely been slow in the recent years, and it's harder to find the larger sponsors," Markle said. "Their marketing budgets aren't what they used to be."

But, Markle added, that has cleared the way for smaller sponsors to get involved.

School districts can still get their share of the advertising pool, Bertoni said. The key is showing potential sponsors that their money is better spent at schools than on other advertising investments.

"An average high school is able to get a viewership that rivals any minor league team," Bertoni said.

Because school teams usually play others in the same area, fans of both teams are typically part of the same advertising market.

"With the high schools or with school districts, we're talking about hundreds of thousands of views," Bertoni said.

For Bertoni, a big part of setting up a good partnership is making sure that ads aren't over-the-top.

"It's a very fine line you have to walk," he said. "Anything that we do, we don't want to take away from the games itself."

Dr. Theresa D. Haught, Muhlenberg superintendent, said having an "out" if the district feels an ad is inappropriate will be important as Muhlenberg investigates a program.

"We will make sure we have the right to say no," she said.

Districts have options when it comes to setting up a system for reviewing sponsorship offers, said Davelyn S. Smeltzer, director of policy services for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Some school boards create a committee to review offers. Others set criteria in their policies.

"It's ultimately the decision of the school board," he said.
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