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Colleges recruit students with scoreboard ads in high school gyms

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Sep. 13, 2013, at 7:50 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, at 10:01 a.m.

Wichita public school students will see more than the score when they glance up at gymnasium scoreboards this year.

They’ll see a message from Wichita State University, in bright yellow and black, telling them they’d “make great Shockers” and directing them to a website where they can learn about graduates from their high school who are making good at WSU.

“We wanted to create some engagement and not just have static ads,” said Barth Hague, associate vice president for marketing and communications at WSU. “We felt like this would be a good way to connect with Wichita students, who are a big draw for the university.”

WSU paid the school district $90,000 for three years worth of the scoreboard banners and other promotions – including full-page ads in student planners and public-address announcements during varsity games – at the seven Wichita high schools with athletic programs.

An option in the contract would extend it one more year, through the 2015-16 school year, for an additional $10,000, said district spokeswoman Susan Arensman.

Other colleges also have purchased sponsorships with Wichita schools, Arensman said. They include: Friends, Newman, Cowley College, Kansas State University, the University of Kansas, McPherson College and Wichita Area Technical College, she said.

WSU’s new ads are noticeable particularly at schools with new gymnasiums and center-hung scoreboards installed as part of the 2008 bond issue.

The one at South High, for example, says, “Titans make great Shockers” and directs fans to wichita.edu/hometeam. Call up that page on your computer or smartphone, click on the South High logo, and you’ll see Hanie Baayoun, a South graduate majoring in electrical engineering at WSU.

North High students can see one of their own, Dalia Hernandez, who is majoring in bioengineering and computer science. East High is represented by Jenice Duong, Heights by Marcus McNeal, Southeast by Sarah Cummings, and so on for all the Wichita schools, including Northeast Magnet.

The page also features students from Kapaun Mount Carmel, Bishop Carroll, Andover, Maize, Goddard, Newton and Valley Center.

Graduates from USD 259 make up about one-fourth of WSU’s incoming freshman class each year, said Hague, so “we wanted to have a presence in the high schools as much as we are able to.”

About 80 percent of WSU students come from the Wichita metro area, he said.

Given WSU’s recent success in basketball, having the ads feature prominently above basketball courts and in clear sight of thousands of high school basketball fans “made a lot of sense,” Hague added. “Basketball is a strong venue for us.”

About four years ago, the Wichita school board hired a marketing firm to sell ads for high school gym walls, televisions and sporting events. The move was intended to make up for some of the revenue schools lost as soda companies withdrew vending contracts because of legislative restrictions and rising concerns about childhood obesity.

In 2011, as the district looked for more ways to supplement its cash-strapped budget, Superintendent John Allison said corporate logos could become more prevalent.

“Because of economics, we have to look at all those types of things – ads, sponsorships … seeing how we could possibly increase revenue streams,” Allison said at the time.

Since 2010, the Wichita district has raised just more than $406,000 in advertising, mostly banner and television ads at the district’s seven comprehensive high schools, said district spokeswoman Wendy Johnson. After expenses, including fees to firms that helped start and sell the program, the balance is distributed among the schools, she said.

An exact breakdown of revenue per school wasn’t immediately available, Johnson said Friday, but “it has been significant.”

A district policy gives Allison the final say on whether to accept or reject advertisements. It also prevents schools from accepting ads for alcohol or tobacco products, political candidates or anything “whose theme or messages are inconsistent with the curriculum or educational mission of the district.”

Adding the web address to its scoreboard ads allows WSU to track how many people see the ad and click over to the website, Hague said.

“One of our objectives is to engage high school sports fans and students via mobile devices,” he said.

When the university launched its “WSU Home Team” project last year, more than 1,700 people visited the site, but only 230 accessed it from mobile devices.

“We’re expecting that number to grow this season now that all the scoreboard ads are in place and as mobile use continues to expand,” Hague said.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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