Kentucky is all-in on high school sports sponsorships

A Rawlings basketball with the KHSAA logo used during the Boys Sweet Sixteen
A Rawlings basketball with the KHSAA logo used during the Boys Sweet Sixteen

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - They're hard to miss. You'll find them on the court, on the basket, on the sideline, on the ball, on the shirts on the awards and on the scoreboard. Corporate logos from corporate sponsors are surrounding sports. But this isn't the NBA or NCAA - this is high school in Kentucky.

How pervasive is it? After we filed an open records request for copies of current sponsorship agreements with the Kentucky High School Athletic Association we received 22 contracts. Seven of them sponsor state tournaments, including $150,000 per year PNC pays for the Boys Sweet 16, $50,000 per year for the girls tournament and the football championships. Even the swimming and bowling championships have corporate sponsorship deals. All seven tournament sponsorships total just over $300,000.

There are 14 other deals. Rawlings pays $90,000 to be "official ball supplier." Organizations that survive on taxpayer dollars, like Kentucky National Guard and Department of Agriculture, spend tens of thousands of dollars. Public universities, like Northern Kentucky and Morehead State, are sponsors as well. All 22 sponsorship deals total just over $600,000, with many fees scheduled to increase next year.

"We don't receive any general fund money. We're non-profit, self supporting, solely off our state tournament ticket money," said Butch Cope, KHSAA assistant commissioner. "We never really wanted to get to where we would be dependent on sponsorship money, but I think everybody's there, to a certain degree."

So where do they draw the line? At Jefferson County's public schools, you don't see any corporate logos on the football field. However, that could be changing as soon as this year.

"It's now permissible for schools to go out and sell an ad and paint it on the football field as long as it doesn't interfere with hash marks and numbers and markings they're not allowed to cover up," said Jerry Wyman, JCPS athletics director.

So what does PNC get for its $150,000 basketball tournament sponsorship? The answer is signage, public address announcements, booths, ads, radio spots and tickets. Plus, the PNC logo is placed in media backdrops, chair backs, scorer's tables, on the basket supports, on the gym floor, on tickets, in front of the benches, and on the trophies. In addition, all references are now to the "PNC Boys Sweet 16 State Basketball Tournament."

Wyman doesn't think the high school kids notice any of this.

"I may be naive when I say this, but I think when you have corporate sponsors on the names of tournaments and ballgames that you do, the people that hear that corporate sponsorship, are adults," said Wyman.

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