When the Comets host the Middies Sept. 9 in Amherst’s first home football game of the season, they’ll be playing at the new Mercy Health Stadium.
In a $240,000 deal, the Amherst board of education voted Thursday to give Mercy naming rights to the facility at Steele High School.
That breaks down to $20,000 per year over 12 years.
“These dollars will allow us to offset some of our maintenance costs for sports facilities throughout the district,” said superintendent Steven Sayers.
Signs will be raised on the press box, concession area, and near Washington Avenue. There will also be Mercy banners at the Comets soccer complex and inside the high school gym.
They won’t be up in time for that first home football game, but likely within a month, Sayers said.
Mercy’s various services in Amherst, including Mercy Health Physicians’ offices and the Mercy Health and Recreation Center, plus the close proximity of Mercy Regional Medical Center in Lorain, give the company a deep connection to the community, said Lorain region CEO Edwin Oley in a written statement.
“We look to collaborate with like-minded organizations and we feel that the Amherst school district is the ideal partner as we continue to grow in Amherst,” he said.
Last year, officials hired an independent firm called Hunter Sports Marketing to cold call local businesses and pitch the opportunity at naming rights. Several big-name businesses were given the chance but declined, according to board president Rex Engle.
Those talks were handled without school officials to avoid conflicts of interest, he said.
School board member Ron Yacabozzi also sits on the Mercy Hospital Foundation board of directors. He abstained from the naming rights vote.
Board member Bob Kamnikar was absent from the special meeting and did not get a vote.
It’s important to note the deal does not affect the Dick Cooley Memorial Track, which bears the name of the legendary coach who died last October at age 93. He was Amherst’s head track coach from 1958 to 1982, leading his runners to two state titles and 31 Southwestern Conference championships.
Thursday’s decision comes just after the Amherst Schools granted naming rights to another Steele High facility — its new creative learning center. The Amherst Schools Educational Foundation gave $200,000 toward the $340,000 cost of transforming the building’s old media center into a high-tech student work space.
While many public school sites in Lorain County bear the names of local heroes, few have sold naming rights to corporations.
One exception is Avon, which renamed its high school football stadium for Joe Firment Chevrolet after a 2014 deal.
This spring, the International Business Times noted how more schools are turning to private sponsors amid tightening budgets, following the lead of colleges and pro franchises.
Some schools are even billboarding their parking lots, gyms, and individual classrooms, the publication said.
“I see this as kind of a logical progression,” Josh Boyd, an associate professor at Purdue University’s Brian Lamb School of Communication told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s not surprising we’re seeing the next level down in athletics doing the same thing (as pro and college teams). But I think it’s still in the early stages.”
Sayers believes more private-public deals are in the cards: “As these partnerships develop, we want to do more of these types of things,” he said, and Amherst school board members seemed to agree.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times The Comets now play at Mercy Health Stadium after naming rights were granted Thursday in a $240,000 deal.
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