June 10th, 2008

City Explores Ad Revenue

By Pam Zubeck
The Gazette (Colorado)

Parks a likely spot for corporate sponsors’ names

Don’t be surprised to see a Nike or Home Depot logo on playground equipment at a Colorado Springs city park or on the sleeve of a city employee’s shirt if the city nails down a possible multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal.

The city this week issued a request for proposals for an agent to sell exclusive naming rights for public venues, signs or sponsorship of public events.

“I would say we would probably be talking about millions of dollars rather than hundreds of thousands,” said Parks Director Paul Butcher. His department is likely to have more opportunities for sponsorships than other city departments, for such things as ball field fences, playground equipment and even staff shirts.

He said city vehicles aren’t off-limits and might end up promoting a soft drink, motor oil or store, but he added, “We don’t want to look like a NASCAR vehicle.”

The idea of corporate advertising in the public arena isn’t new. Schools have allowed advertising on buses and in other places for years. But cities have been slower to jump on the bandwagon, and it’s a first for Colorado Springs.

The motivation, obviously, is financial. The city is struggling to fund basic services as sales tax revenues decline in a slow economy. Last year revenue fell short of projections by about $10 million, and this year the city is on pace for another shortfall.

“Revenue generation is a very, very strong concern,” said Butcher, who served as deputy city manager when the idea was hatched earlier this year after the arrival of City Manager Penelope Culbreth-Graft. She came from Huntington Beach, Calif., where corporate sponsorships have been used.

The city and county of Denver also has a program, handled by marketing firm Proxy Partners, which negotiated naming rights of a lecture hall at the Colorado Convention Center to Wells Fargo.

Some Springs city assets already bear names, and that wouldn’t change. The name of the El Pomar Youth Sports Center in south Colorado Springs has been affixed in perpetuity because the El Pomar Foundation made a major donation to fund it, Butcher said.

The city would exercise oversight to avoid inappropriate labeling, such as posting beer ads at youth sports fields.

Mayor Lionel Rivera said the request for proposals is a starting point, and he’s eager to learn more about the potential.

“I don’t know what’s going to come back (in response to the request for proposals) and whether it’s going to be worthwhile,” Rivera said. “Some members of council might not like putting a big sign on a ballpark.”

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