UNC officials recently got a look at computer-generated mockups of various possibilities for advertising signage in the Smith Center. At the first meeting of a task force formed to study the feasibility of such ads, it viewed examples that included a Bank of America logo on a basket support, BMW advertisements on the scoreboards and a Capital One banner hanging across upper level overhangs. The group also looked at signage that could be added to the scoreboard at Kenan Stadium.
Rising scholarship costs fueled by successive tuition increases led the Carolina trustees to recommend exploring corporate signage last summer after Athletics Director Dick Baddour ’66 told the trustees of the Educational Foundation’s difficulty in paying for rising scholarship costs.
The athletics department believes advertising could bring in an additional $870,000 in revenue to the University.
The tuition increase approved in January by the trustees and awaiting action by the UNC System Board of Governors would raise the annual cost of athletics scholarships by $300,000.
Last year, for the first time in 15 years, the athletics department helped the Educational Foundation, which also is known as the Rams Club, absorb a shortfall in its funds to pay for scholarships.
Trustee John Ellison ’69, a member of the Rams Club and the newly formed Task Force on Signage in Athletic Facilities, explained the dilemma the trustees face.
“It will be distasteful to have ads, because instead of the cheerleaders and the pep band rallying the crowd during timeouts, we’ll have loud announcements over the speakers,” Ellison said. “The question is, will it be more distasteful than cutting scholarships or athletic programs?”
He added that a number of issues, including the amount of revenue generated and legal rights of control, would determine whether UNC agrees to allow advertising. “If it’s only a small amount of money, I don’t think the trustees will vote for it. There are a lot of unanswered questions.”
Task force members said their foremost concern in exploring corporate signage is maintaining the values and traditions they believe make UNC special.
UNC is one of a few U.S. universities that do not allow permanent advertising in their major athletics venues; at UNC, it is currently allowed in Carmichael Auditorium, Boshamer Stadium and Fetzer Field. So-called “soft advertising” has been a staple at events in the past, including commercial spots run on video boards and signs held up by cheerleaders in promotional events during timeouts.
The athletics department currently receives roughly $2.5 million from Learfield Communications Inc. for advertisements that run on the video boards at Kenan Stadium and the Smith Center. As UNC’s multimedia rights holder, Learfield also produces programs such as “Inside Carolina Basketball with Roy Williams.
Task force member Carl Matheson ’57, who is chair of the GAA Board of Directors, said good taste would be the most important factor in determining how signs are placed.
“No one wants to do it, but I think it’s inevitable,” Matheson said. “If we need money, wouldn’t it make sense to do good planning and exercise good taste and maximize the opportunity?”
Matheson added that the University’s current position on advertising needed clarification. “We can’t say we don’t advertise when we’re doing soft advertising in Kenan Stadium and the Smith Center,” he said.
In 2003-04, UNC awarded 292 full scholarship units, 172 for men and 120 for women. A total of 463 athletes, mainly those in nonrevenue sports, receive some sort of scholarship support.