At Monday night’s (July 18) Board of Selectmen meeting, selectman Dave Clune led a discussion of the possibility of accepting paid advertising at Veterans Memorial Stadium at Wilton High School to help Wilton afford costs associated with future care and replacement of the artificial turf at Fujitani Field.
Noting that there has not been any kind of fund in place for the town to cover costs of replacing the field in the future, Clune said that many other towns have pursued advertising income as one avenue for raising this funding. Most notably, he referenced Ridgefield as a community that has done so.
Typically, Clune said, ads are sold to local businesses and placed in locations such as the exterior fence around the stadium track, the scoreboard and the press box.
“What other fields have done is put together levels of packages. A sponsor would buy for three seasons, fall-winter-spring. Sponsors could have banners on one or two sides of the fence, or pay more to have advertising on the press box. Depending on the numbers, what Ridgefield has done, their top tier has been about $2,500. So 20 or even 10 sponsors, you end up raising a substantial amount of money. And hopefully it’s renewable year after year. You have a fairly steady flow of income to have dedicated to replacement or maintenance of the turf,” Clune said.
Clune said the panels of the chain link fence surrounding the field and track are 4 ft. x 6 ft..”Each advertisement would fit that space.” He added other locations offer slightly different sizing and options, pointing to the back side of the visitor stands, facing Rte. 7 as another possible area to consider. He acknowledged that one side of the argument might be against such visible advertising, but noted, “If the town doesn’t want to fund these things on its own in the future, one way to offset the cost is through things like this.”
Advertising could be a lucrative solution to budget shortfalls. Clune estimated the amount that Ridgefield recoups from advertising, given that town’s pricing structure. “It could be $40,000-$60,000 a year. If it works well, it could be quite significant.”
First selectman Lynne Vanderslice agreed, adding, “It’s not something to sneeze at.”
As for the administration of the program, Clune suggested two possible options: either something run by the town or something outsourced to resident volunteers. “It could be through the town or perhaps a better option is allow people willing to volunteer to handle the administration, to set up the program and also to administer the funds aspect of it.”
He also said that he wanted to make sure that the town, which owns the stadium, has adequate permission to move forward with a plan to accept advertising, “before we move too far and getting things lined up.” Whether that permission would have to come from the Planning & Zoning Commission, the Board of Education or the Selectmen is to be determined.
Selectman Dick Dubow, who sat on the Board of Education when this idea was once considered and rejected, said that there still might be several concerns related to advertising. “There was concern about our endorsement of products, as a Board of Education we were not comfortable with. Before we go forward with this, I would like to see comprehensive policy as to who would determine it was acceptable advertising, limitations, we have sign ordinance in town, we’d have to comply with that.”
Vanderslice suggested talking with town planner Robert Nerney about how any town sign ordinances would impact this type of signage. “I’m not sure if that applies in this situation. I don’t know what it is for a stadium vs. a business.”
Selectman Lori Bufano pointed out that the Little League fields at the Wilton Family Y have similar advertisements.
As for under whose jurisdiction any advertising on school property falls, Vanderslice said both she and school superintendent, Dr. Kevin Smith, agree that the BoS have oversight of the stadium, while the BoE oversees what happens in the school’s Zeoli Field House gym.
“My understanding is the Board of Ed. is opposed to [advertising in] the gymnasium. I’ve talked to some of the members and Kevin Smith. [He] felt that anything that goes on inside of the building is the purview of the Board of Ed. So if anything goes on in the gym, it would have to be their decision making. The stadium, he felt it’s our decision making.” She added that she felt it would be appropriate to share whatever policy is drafted with the BoE but, “…at the end of the day, the stadium, I agreed with him, is the town’s.”
Selectman Michael Kaelin suggested that Clune should meet with both town counsel and town planner Nerney to find out what town committee is responsible for considering what types of signs are allowed.
“We’ve had companies like Coca Cola offer to buy our scoreboard and put their name on it. If it’s going to be a permanent fixture, like a scoreboard, it’s probably the Board of Selectmen. If it’s just hanging a banner, it’s probably the Board of Education. But Bob Nerney is going to be able to tell you what signs are subject to the Planning & Zoning commission. Town counsel is able to say who is the legal authority to make a decision,” Kaelin said.
He added that he thinks the idea is “well worth pursuing” because it can be financially very beneficial to the town. “It’s probably a direction we need to be going with this.”
Dubow noted that when he was at the BoE, there were several policy implications, and he suggested reviewing policy examples from other towns and schools that have opted for similar stadium advertising.
Clune responded that such advertising is something other towns have opted for to offset budget problems, noting, “It seems to be a recent trend.”
Dubow added he saw a concern about any implied endorsements, to which Vanderslice said, “Yes, you want to make sure you have the right kind of things.”