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Published in Print: November 18, 1998, as Ohio District Takes Sports Fund Raising to New Level

Ohio District Takes Sports Fund Raising to New Level

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A controversial money-making strategy that professional sports teams have begun using to subsidize new stadiums has made its way into the high school arena.

Officials at Ravenna High School in Ohio this year opted to supplement the usual fund-raisers with the sale of expensive personal-seat licenses, possibly making it the first high school in the nation to do so, say experts who monitor fund-raising trends at schools.

The so-called PSLs give purchasers the right to buy tickets to sporting events.

Proceeds from the advance sales of the licenses will help finance a 8,000-seat football and soccer stadium scheduled to be built next year as part of a $4.5 million athletic complex.

"This is the first time we've taken on a project of this magnitude, and we did not want to go with a bond issue," said Philip E. Warner, the superintendent of the 3,400-student Ravenna district near Akron, Ohio. Instead, school officials wanted residents to have a more direct choice about whether they participated in raising money for the stadium, he said.

Wrong Message?

Under the plan, for $1,500, fans of the Ravenna High Ravens can buy two seats with their names inscribed on them at the 40-yard lines. Inscribed seating elsewhere in the stadium costs $1,000.

Both packages include VIP parking and an optional five-year payment plan. Seats purchased will be guaranteed for the patron's lifetime pending the annual $30 purchase of season tickets.

Personal-seat licenses were first marketed in 1995 by professional sports teams attempting to pay for new stadiums, said Richard G. Sheehan, a professor of finance and business who specializes in sports economics at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. Only a handful of colleges and universities nationwide use guaranteed seats.

Mr. Sheehan questions the practice of marketing such licenses at the high school level, contending that it sends a bad signal to students. There seems to be "a greater emphasis on athletics over nonathletic pursuits," he said.

But so far, the Ravenna community has been supportive, Mr. Warner said. In the first three weeks of the fund-raiser, fans have written checks for $50,000.

The school's goal is to get 800 donors to raise about $1 million for the stadium.

The selling of personal-seat licenses is yet another example of escalating efforts to increase school financing, said Bruce Howard, spokesman for the Kansas City, Mo.-based Federation of State High School Associations, an umbrella organization for high school athletic governing bodies.

Schools' activities programs "must be somewhat open to fund-raisers and corporate sponsorships to survive," Mr. Howard said.

Nearly all the states' associations now use sponsorships to finance school activities, he added.

The practice is acceptable, he said, as long as schools do not become dependent on and accountable to commercial enterprises.

"If this is something that works and something that is a positive way to contribute to a school athletic program, I think it is fine," Mr. Howard said.

Vol. 18, Issue 12, Page 6

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