High school sports in Chandler will soon be brought to you exclusively by Nike.
The Chandler Unified School District governing board approved by a 4-1 vote Wednesday a proposal to enter into a one-year contract with Nike to provide 24 of the district’s high school athletic teams with free products and discounts between 20 and 40 percent on additional products.
In exchange, Chandler agrees to designate Nike as the “official and exclusive” sponsor of the athletic program.
The agreement is the first of its kind between Nike and a school district west of the Mississippi, said district spokesman Terry Locke. Nike could not be immediately reached to confirm that. Individual sports teams in Chandler have been sponsored by local and national businesses before, he said, but never has the district had such a far-reaching agreement.
The move is part of a district initiative to increase school resources by building partnerships in the community. Locke said the district decided last spring to seek sponsorship for athletics and put a bid out to seven companies, including Adidas. Only Nike submitted a proposal to the request.
Jennifer Sandlin, an assistant professor in the division of curriculum and instruction at Arizona State University, teaches classes related to commercialization and public education. She said some people see agreements like the one between Chandler and Nike as a relatively harmless exchange of free stuff for a little advertising. But others see it as a violation of the public trust.
“It creates an expectation that we smile and take the money,” she said. “Once the administration is dependent on some sort of corporation for funding, they may be less willing to critique the practices of that company.”
Where it becomes particularly problematic, she said, is when students are forced to use products they don’t support. She cited a case in Atlanta, Ga., where a student was suspended for wearing a Pepsi t-shirt on “Coke Day.” The school was trying to win a contest sponsored by Coke.
There is a trend in the advertising industry to target younger audiences and build brand loyalty at ages as young as 1 or 2.
“These sorts of endorsements used to only be seen at the college level,” she said. “Now you have Nike moving to a younger audience. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it move into middle schools soon.”
Under the Chandler agreement, Basha, Chandler, Hamilton and Perry high schools will each receive $11,000 in free products to be distributed between six boys’ and six girls’ teams at each school. In addition, the schools will receive a variety of other free items, such as $500 in Nike products to be used for fundraising, and four annual “starter packs,” to include about 100 shirts, for booster clubs.
Exactly what the money is on spent will be up to the school’s athletic director, who can choose to do anything from outfitting coaches to buying a team all new warmup outfits.
“We’re still working out the details,” Locke said. “If kids have Adidas shoes and they want to wear them, they can. But if the school provides them, they will be Nike.”
Coaches, for example, will be asked to not wear clothing with competitors’ logos when making appearances, such as television interviews following a big win on a Friday night.
“How much above and beyond that it goes, those are things the schools haven’t thought about much yet,” Locke said.
Uniforms are replaced every nine years, said Chandler High School Athletic Director Dave Shapiro. But if Nike wants athletes to wear jerseys emblazoned with logos before a uniform is scheduled to be replaced, the athletes must wear them and Nike will pay for them.
Shapiro said the money will help the athletes, but he’s most excited about the benefit to students and staff who are not part of a team.
“The really neat thing is that any student, even if they are in the band, can get a discount on shoes and other things they might need,” he said.
Governing board member David Evans commended associate superintendent Frank Fletcher and the team of administrators who spearheaded the proposal for being resourceful in finding ways to supplement the sports programs, but he said he would not support the agreement.
“The part I don’t like is that when it comes down to it, it’s a great benefit to us, but it’s an even greater benefit to Nike, in terms of the exposure they will get,” he said. The Nike swoosh is likely to appear on everything from shoes, to warmup outfits, jerseys and gear bags.
Board member Robert Rice had concerns about the agreement, too, but said he was willing to approve it for one year to see how it works.
“I wonder whether we give away too much with a corporate agreement in terms of doing what’s in the best interest of our kids,” he said.
Board Vice President Karen Clark said she disagreed that the endorsement would somehow exploit kids.
“It’s no different than Intel having their name on our marquee because they helped sponsor something,” she said. Intel presented the board with a check for $114,200 earlier in the evening as part of its volunteer matching grant program, which donates $200 per 20 hours that an Intel employee volunteers in the schools.
In smaller deals, Nike has sponsored individual teams before. For example, at Mesa’s Mountain View High School, the company provides shoes, bags and other apparel to the varsity boys’ basketball team, said district spokeswoman Kathy Bareiss.