The boys basketball team at Mountain View High School has scored a $9,000 deal with athletic apparel-maker Nike to suit up the squad for the next two seasons. And the school won’t have to pay a cent.
Nike can now be considered the team’s corporate sponsor.
It’s the first time a Mesa high school team has been awarded such a deal.
Nike and other corporations have been known to donate shoes, clothes, and equipment to schools and organizations in need, but few school teams are picked for such an exclusive reward, according to high school athletics representatives.
A reward for winning, that is.
"It’s unfortunate, but it’s not given to losing teams usually, " said Joe Boardwine, associate executive director of the National High School Coaches Association.
Mountain View is the defending state champion, and the Toros have won five titles in the past decade.
Sponsorship deals benefit corporations and teams. Manufacturers get to promote their brand on the backs and feet of outstanding squads and athletes. The schools, meanwhile, save money on warm-up sweats, uniforms, shoes and equipment that otherwise would be bought by booster clubs or athletics officials.
But lately, schools are under scrutiny for signing deals with corporations, especially for "pouring contracts" that give beverage and snack firms exclusive rights to sell their products on campuses. Because of these agreements, schools have been accused of selling out and contributing to the nationwide problem of juvenile obesity.
The Mesa Unified School District governing board approved the Nike deal this week. No one expressed any misgivings about the arrangement, said Mike Hughes, president of the board.
"I think it’s hard-earned by the school," Hughes said. The basketball players "have been successful, and I’m sure that’s why they were chosen by Nike. I think it’s a reward."
Some schools, trying to alleviate concerns about commercial influence over education, don’t allow such gifts. For example, Tempe Union High School District requires that all uniforms be purchased by the school’s athletics department, an effort to ensure fairness and consistency within the district, said Dan Serrano, principal of McClintock High School.
He acknowledges, though, that some schools get more support from their booster clubs than other schools do, depending on the local families’ incomes.
Corporate sponsorship in schools can further underscore the economic gap. "It does raise issues between the haves and the have-nots," said Chris Thomas, an Arizona School Boards Association attorney. "I’m sure there will be other schools crying foul" over the deal. However, he added, "there’s nothing illegal about it."
Harold Slemmer, executive director of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, said deals such as Nike and Mountain View have are regarded as a rare gift.
"It’s not as if you have a dozen or so schools have this every year," Slemmer said. "If that was the case, then it certainly would create disparities."