While the town planning board struggles with a policy it’s already adopted, other communities are getting with the program and using school athletic field scoreboards to not just display game stats but advertise local businesses much life in seen in professional sporting events, albeit on a smaller scale.
“I’m surprised tonight,” said Bill King, Stonington Public Schools operations manager and project quarterback since last summer when the school’s first brought its plan to cover the costs of badly needed new scoreboards by installing advertising panels featuring area business and other sponsors.
“I didn’t expect this,” King said.
The Planning and Zoning Commission tabled a vote Tuesday to approve a new board for the softball field at Stonington High School even though it approved ones for the football field and gymnasium and in fact approved a new regulation that allows for fields to feature similar signage.
King said the softball field scoreboard is 14 feet by 4 feet with a 2-foot'advertising panel on the bottom and top of the board. The softball season is under way now with scrimmages. King said the existing board needs to be replaced.
The company providing the scoreboard ad panels, Ohio-based Side Effects Inc., was contacted by a number of Connecticut and Rhode Island secondary schools to institute similar ad programs following Stonington’s lead.
Now, according to King, Side Effects is working with Ledyard High School, Bacon Academy High School in Colchester and South Kingstown (RI) High School on football scoreboard projects expected to be completed by next fall.
“They’re pretty excited,” King said.
Last summer the school district asked the PZC for a zoning text amendment that would allow advertising sponsor panels placed on the high school football field scoreboard to help not only offset the cost of the board, but as a way to generate revenue to help support athletic and other extracurricular programs.
After three meetings and a public hearing, what was approved was a more expansive zoning text amendment that allows for advertising signage on both indoor and outdoor scoreboards at schools athletic fields.
The football scoreboard was approved and installed last November.
Some PZC members have concerns about the number of boards that will feature advertising yet to be installed.
“I thought this was only football,” said member John Prue, adding the apparently not-rhetorical: “How many more?”
King responded: “As many fields as the schools own.”
Commissioner Ben Tamsky has been opposed to the program from the start even when it was clear that a proposed McDonald’s ad for the football field press box would be rejected.
“First we were told only local advertisers, then it was McDonald’s and that was changed but when’s that going to come back,” he questioned. “I only bring it up because of how it was presented to us and how it has progressed…I want to see it eliminated, but that’s not going to happen.”
And despite an opinion by the town attorney that the new regulation approved by a majority of the PZC could “cause legal problems” as it creates a set of rules for one property owner, namely the town/schools, the zoning law was created and, at least Chairman Rob Marseglia worried that if the commission should say no to a scoreboard request it could leave itself open for an appeal and court case by the schools.
“It’s almost certain we’re guaranteed to lose (an appeal in court) if we deny (a request for another new scoreboard with ad panels) when it’s okay by our regulations.”
In the end, the PZC tabled the issue for two weeks.