WARF founders Dave Clune, J.R. Sherman and Dave Cote at WHS's Veterans Memorial Stadium. (file photo)

At their Monday night meeting (Sept. 11), the Board of Selectmen approved a policy that permits advertising at Memorial Stadium and  Kristine Lilly Field. In conjunction they also approved the start of a pilot program that could start hanging banner ads for participating advertiser businesses at the stadium in the next 1-2 weeks.

Selectman Dave Clune (pictured left, above) is the town official responsible for helping to create the program. He started working on it this past year with Wilton resident David Cote (pictured right, above) after the latter presented the idea during public comment at a town meeting, suggesting that future maintenance and replacement costs of Wilton’s turf fields could be financed (wholly or in part) by revenues from stadium ads. The two men were joined by a third Wilton resident, J.R. Sherman (above, center), a Wilton Lacrosse Association board member who, like Clune, grew up in Wilton.

Clune began by doing a lot of research with other schools–some, like Ridgefield, were close by, others were around the country.

“We knew Ridgefield already allowed stadium advertising so we spoke with them to find out how their program was set up, what types of considerations did they weigh, and how they moved forward. They were very, very helpful. Then we took a look at several other municipalities and school districts across the country that also had similar advertising programs, to see, ‘Did we  cover our bases? What were the considerations? and Could we replicate this here in Wilton?’” Clune explains.

In order to accept donations, the trio created Wilton Athletic and Recreation Foundation (WARF), for the sole purpose of placing advertising and taking revenue to be put toward significant maintenance or future replacement of the turf. Clune says they are finalizing steps to make WARF a 501(c)(3) entity, and donations tax deductible.

Banners with company names or logos will be hung on the bleachers at Lilly Field and around Memorial Stadium and on the bleachers. In addition, they all will be visually very similar and uniform.

“We wanted it to be very tasteful and Wilton specific. So the colors of all of the banners will be white printing on navy blue background. In the mock-ups we looked at looks really nice. It’s a nice balance with letting advertisers get their names and logos out there, so that the advertising is visible but doesn’t overtake the activities in the stadium or the field,” says Clune.

Ads will vary in size and location in the stadium depending on the level of participation. Costs for the ads range from $750 to $15,000. Both fall and spring seasons are included in the fees, as is the printing of the banners.

Before moving forward with the policy, it was reviewed by Ira Bloom, Wilton’s town counsel. It was written to be consistent with the Wilton School District’s policy on advertising and promotion, which the Board of Education passed last year. The policy makes clear that advertising doesn’t indicate endorsement by the town of any business or product, and stresses that because the facilities are used by school children all advertising had to reflect the same restrictions set in the school district’s advertising policy–e.g. no ads for alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, liquor, guns or weapons, adult products, etc., and ads directed against a person or a group, or that are political in nature are prohibited.

Clune says the move to accept advertising is an opportunity that suits both the town as well as the businesses that advertise.

“To replace the fields is expensive, and someone has to pay for it. We had unused space within those facilities that could be put toward improving those facilities. It goes hand in hand. And when you look at how the facilities are used–from youth sports to adult recreation, High School sporting events, and more, there is a steady flow of traffic. For advertisers, it’s good visibility and we can be supportive of the local business community,” he says.

The selectmen are implementing the program on a pilot basis, and will evaluate it after the first year to determine if the pricing schedule works and if locations where ads are hung work for everyone. Still, those involved optimistically consider it a “long range plan,” as a way to raise money each year and put it aside to allow it to become something that could be put to use when needed.

As for getting the first year’s program off the ground, Clune says they are hopeful that they can start to move forward quickly now that they have BOS approval.

“If businesses are interested, they need to contact us by Wednesday, Sept. 20. If we fill up then we’ll move forward and start the process. Roughly the following week is the target to get it up, so advertisers see some benefit for the remainder of the fall season. We’d like to get it going as soon as possible,” he says.

The advertising spots will be filled on a first come, first serve basis.

“We’re excited to try this and see where it goes. Thanks to JR and Dave Cote for helping to get this started, and the BOS for trying this,” Clune adds.

They’ve set up a special email address to accept messages related to the program, and encourage any businesses that are interested to reach out via email as soon as possible, before Sept. 20.