Athletics and Boosters: A Critical Partnership
Today's economic climate has placed interscholastic athletic programming in the crosshairs of the budget debate taking place in school districts throughout the country. Although it has been well documented that high school sports play a crucial role in the education and character development of those who participate, decision-makers continue to wrestle with the issue of how to allocate shrinking dollars to sustain these programs. Mandates from state education departments (many of which are unfunded), teacher and administrator salary agreements, and the demands of the local population for school accountability all have a direct impact upon athletic administrators. Doing more with less has become an annual rite of passage for athletic directors when building their budgets.
Instead of cutting programs to meet the bottom line, many athletic administrators have developed strategies for creating additional revenues. "Pay to participate" initiatives are the norm in many parts of the United States as families are assessed user fees for the opportunity for their children to take part in after school activities. Similarly, a growing number of school districts have increased ticket prices as a means of increasing their coffers.
The financial salvation for many athletic administrators lies in the efforts of their all-sports booster groups that raise money to supplement the athletic program. The growing role of athletic booster clubs in helping to sustain local athletic departments can be seen in the types of projects that they now assume, many of which have historically been in the bailiwick of the public schools. Increasingly, booster programs are paying the tab for essential equipment and services, including coaches' salaries, game uniforms, and the reconditioning of equipment.
As a result, athletic administrators must remain in tune with the needs and fundraising goals of these critical financial partners and develop strategies to assist them in their efforts. Maximizing the potential dollars raised by their fundraising projects must become a key priority in the annual school budget process. Working collaboratively and strategically with their parent and booster groups, athletic directors can enhance those revenues and, in turn, keep vitally important programs intact.
Building the Relationship
In order to strengthen their department's partnership with booster groups, athletic directors must strive to develop a stronger relationship with the people who perform this vital work. Whenever possible and practical, athletic administrators should attend monthly meetings of their booster clubs and keep members informed of current happenings in the athletic department. Sharing positive news about the accomplishments of teams, players, coaches, and alumni is a form of effective public relations that can prove inspirational to parent groups and make them feel part of the success of the athletic program. In addition, having access to the athletic administrator allows parents an opportunity to provide feedback that has the potential to stimulate improvement.
Communication is the most important tool for enhancing this relationship. Athletic directors should use these opportunities to announce upcoming game schedules in a timely manner so that booster groups can plan more effectively. In particular, communicating the following information may assist booster groups in performing their work:
Hosting a playoff game is not only a source of unanticipated revenue for booster groups; it also can pose opportunities to decrease overhead costs. Athletic administrators should communicate all playoff brackets to their booster clubs. In the event that one's team advances to the next round and has an opportunity to host an additional contest, knowing the schools that are no longer in contention can be financially advantageous. Booster club officials may consider reaching out to people in similar positions in other schools to offer to purchase excess inventory that cannot be sold. In many cases, these items can be obtained at a reduced cost.
A stronger relationship between an athletic administrator and his or her booster club can also be forged through a number of other means as well. Ideas that have proven to be effective include:
The best high school coaches understand the importance of capitalizing on the variables presented to them on game day - weather conditions, a weakness of an opponent, knowledge of how the opponent plays - to be most successful. Turning these variables into a competitive advantage oftentimes translates into victory.
In order to maximize the potential for a given athletic contest to yield income, high school booster clubs should operate no differently on game day. Coordinators should examine the following questions when deciding how much product to purchase and what items may prove popular to customers:
"Curb appeal" should also be considered when organizing the concession area. The area should be well maintained at all times and attractive to customers. Counter spaces should be clean. Nearby garbage cans should be emptied and never be overflowing with litter. Signage identifying available food choices and prices should be highly visible. At all times, concessionaires should have plenty of change to help move the line along.
Another useful strategy employed by some booster clubs involves promoting the projects serviced by their fundraising. One parent group, for example, posts a chart next to the main concession window at the football stadium identifying the various equipment and services underwritten by the club over a ten-year period. By demonstrating the scope and breadth of its support for all athletic programs within the school, it effectively markets its brand and communicates how dollars are being spent.
For games in which large crowds are anticipated, athletic booster clubs oftentimes employ creative strategies to grow their profit margins. A number of concessionaires open their windows a few hours before game time to take advantage of early arrivals. Given that many spectators may be unwilling to stand in long lines to purchase food (and thus risk missing part of the contest), today's booster groups have discovered other strategies for decreasing the wait. Among popularly employed strategies for shrinking the concession lines are:
School spirit apparel are popular sellers on game day, and school booster groups should take particular care to take advantage of its fundraising potential. Early season games may prove to be high yield events for selling t-shirts or caps, particularly for newcomers to a school or community who may not own spirit gear. For cold weather games, items such as sweatshirts, mittens, or knitted caps may help protect spectators against the elements while demonstrating their partisan support for the school. Unsold items may be sold at a discount late in the season to reduce inventory.
Athletic administrators who enhance their partnerships with the booster and parent groups in their communities discover that these relationships pay other dividends as well. In addition to the revenues generated by sales of food items or apparel, connections with these important partners help facilitate a variety of other needs as well. Booster groups are often willing to underwrite the costs of major projects sponsored by the athletic department, including awards nights, receptions following regional or state championship events, or programs involving motivational speakers. Oftentimes all the athletic director has to do is simply ask.
Eating a hot dog or enjoying a soft drink is part of the experience of attending a high school athletic event. Today more than at any time in the history of interscholastic sport, that simple exercise has an essential role in financially supporting that contest. Education-based athletics in the twenty-first century cannot exist without the efforts of parent volunteers who donate their time and talents to booster organizations. The partnerships formed between athletic directors and these groups represent the connective tissue that generates both enthusiasm - and revenue - to ensure that student-athletes benefit from these valuable learning opportunities