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Cash-Strapped Texas School Sells Football Stadium ‘Naming Rights’

A Texas school district, saddled with a new football stadium where construction costs soared to roughly $72 million, sold its “naming rights” to a sporting goods giant for $2.5 million.

The Katy Independent School District entered into a 10-year sponsorship agreement with Academy Sports + Outdoors, a leading sporting goods retailer headquartered in Katy. They operate over 200 stores across 15 states, including Texas. In the deal, the Houston area school district forfeits naming rights for a complex that will house a 12,000 seat stadium, a Jumbotron, a two-story press box, restrooms, concessions, field house for future multipurpose room build-out, coed training rooms, square footage for an EMT and a police office, space for a high school football hall of fame, and parking. Also part of the deal is the district’s existing 9,768-seat Jack Rhodes Memorial Stadium, adjacent to the new build. It will continue to be used after the new stadium’s completion.

In 2013, Katy ISD voters rejected a school bond measure that included a 16,000-seat stadium price at $69 million; Then, last year, they approved a $748 million bond package with the 12,000-seat mega-plex and a slimmer $58 million price tag. However, later estimates placed taxpayer costs closer to $61 million.

Covering Katy since reported the price tag swelled to its current $70 million-plus range and is more than 20 percent over budget, making it the state’s most expensive high school football stadium, although the Katy news outlet dubbed it most expensive high school football stadium in the world. It opens in fall 2017.

Katy is not the only cash-strapped Texas school district to unload their naming rights to defray or recoup costs while promoting private businesses. Fox 26 Houston reported at least six others made similar moves. Most bear bank monikers such as the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD stadium, named for the Cy-Fair Federal Credit Union (FCU), in a $1.5 million, 10 year deal.

In 2007, Conroe ISD sold its $38 million stadium and swim complex naming rights to the local Woodforest National Bank. In a $1 million contract over 10 years, the bank has paid the district around $8,333 a month in exchange for unlimited marketing exposure, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Humble ISD relinquished its naming rights for a football field, entryway, and press box in 2012, according to the New York Times.  In 2014, New Caney ISD struck a five-year deal with Houston area auto dealership Texan Drive on their $20 million, 8,000-seat stadium. 

In North Texas, Allen ISD’s Eagle Stadium, which retains the district’s name, instead sold several smaller corporate sponsorships that fetch as much as $500,000 per year for the school district. When it opened in 2012, Allen ISD’s taxpayer funded mega-stadium cost an unprecedented $60 million. The suburban Dallas 18,000-seater then shut down in 2014 for a year and a half because of structural foundation cracks, Breitbart Texas reported. Eagle Stadium, repaired for over $10 million, reopened in time for June 2015 Allen ISD high school graduation ceremonies. District officials said the fixes came at no cost to the taxpayer.

Recently, Seguin ISD shelled out $1.35 million on a state-of-the-art jumbotron system at their football stadium. How they planned to pay for it was fuzzy enough that the extravagant LED scoreboards wound up in a legal action brought forth by four incoming school board members concerned area taxpayers would get stuck with the bill. A school district spokesman also announced the early stages of a marketing plan to fund the jumbotrons through advertising and sponsorship revenue paid for by area and regional businesses, Breitbart Texas reported.

Selling off naming rights is far more prevalent in professional sports, but is not something new in public school athletics. Nor is it exclusive to Texas. In 2002, a Chicago area high school sold the name of its $1.8 million stadium to Rust-Oleum in a $100,000 deal. In 2015, a northern Indiana high school divvied up naming rights per sport. The South Bend Tribune reported they sold the football field’s naming rights to a credit union for nearly $400,000, a local law firm got the softball field, and a specialty tire shop picked up the soccer field. Even the tennis courts got sponsored by local philanthropists.

The Associated Press attributed the rising popularity of these deals to dwindling school district funding but, until recently, few high school football stadium naming rights deals topped $1 million, the Houston Business Journal noted.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.

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