The Name Game

What's in a name? For some, tens of thousands - even millions - of dollars.

We're not talking about the name you or I give to a newborn or a pet. The latest trend involves private companies acquiring the naming rights to public assets.

Allowing corporations to pay for the right to attach their names to such public assets as sports stadiums, convention centers and airports has resulted in a significant windfall for many local governments and public entities. In 1999 alone, 50 cities signed multi-million-dollar agreements with companies interested in sponsoring assets - a tenfold increase since 1994.

Very little is immune from the practice, it seems. Take San Francisco's landmark Candlestick Park, now named 3Com Park as a result of licensing corporate naming rights. The city of Atlanta is considering peddling the naming rights for a number of its public assets. An Internet company recently paid $114 million for the right to name the new stadium for the New England Patriots football team.

The trend is now encroaching into once-sacred territory: education facilities.

Various forms of commercialization have already infiltrated the education landscape, and corporations increasingly have been placing their products and promoting brand names in and on school assets - national fast-food chains in cafeterias; soft-drink machines in hallways; advertising on scoreboards, buses, even roofs. And it has been typical practice for corporations to supply education materials bearing their name to schools and teachers.

But graduating to granting corporate naming rights to education facilities is a practice that is sure to raise even more concern regarding the commercialization of public schools than any previous practice.

Two months ago, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school officials approved a plan that would make everything from individual rooms to entire buildings open to being named for corporations or commercial entities - for a price. One Ohio district has a policy that allows donors to purchase naming rights at its new high school.

School districts and colleges regularly have named buildings for prominent national, state or local figures; or as a way of recognizing someone who made significant contributions - in service or in dollars - to the school or community. Naming rooms or entire buildings for a corporation in an education setting, however, is a new development.

But as schools look for innovative ways to meet continually rising budgetary and program demands, isn't it the job of all education administrators to ensure that every available asset is tapped to its full potential? Granting corporate naming rights to a school building could bring in significant dollars that could be spent directly in the classroom.

It also can be argued that sponsorships are a logical next step in bolstering school/community partnerships. If we can solicit funding, equipment and other forms of support from corporations for our schools, why not offer naming rights - in certain instances - as a way to bring in greater revenue?

Opponents are sure to expound that schools should be pure - free from any form of commercialization. But if Suzie attends "Company A" elementary school, will the name of the school alone affect the quality of the education she receives inside?

Whatever the answer, education administrators would be remiss if they didn't weigh the potentially lucrative return to the school and community - in extra revenue, tax savings, additional materials, equipment and services - that licensing naming rights could bring.

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