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Southern Section Could Make a Break From State

A marketing proposal being considered by CIF might force the 541-school section to forfeit deals with its biggest sponsors.

October 17, 2003|Paul McLeod | Times Staff Writer

A marketing plan under consideration by the California Interscholastic Federation could cripple one of its Southern California sections and prompt it to break away from the state's umbrella high school organization.

At a meeting Thursday in Long Beach, John Costello, marketing director of the 541-school Southern Section, told school administrators that the state proposal would force their organization to forfeit its $165,000-a-year title sponsorship with Toyota, plus more than $85,000 in other deals that conflict with contracts the state has with competing companies.

Without that money, local administrators said, they might be forced to consider increasing game ticket prices, eliminating awards, and even dropping section playoffs in non-revenue sports such as track and field, cross-country, soccer, swimming and water polo.

"Nothing would be off the table," Southern Section Commissioner Jim Staunton said. And that, said other section leaders, includes seceding from the CIF.

"None of us want to go to battle on this," said Anaheim Loara High Principal John Dahlem, a member of the Southern Section's executive committee and also of the state's economic viability committee, "but I know the tenor [of top Southern Section officials]. There are some no-nonsense people there. No one will put up with losing a title sponsor and jacking up dues 100%."

Annual section dues, which have been 23 cents per student since 1986, might double or more, further straining school budgets, Staunton said. The section's schools already pay the state 59.5 cents per student in annual dues and liability fees.

The state proposal, currently under review by an independent consultant, is expected to be brought to a vote among the state's 10 sections next spring.

In most states, a government-controlled agency supervises high school athletics, but the CIF is comprised of geographic sections that operate largely independently.

Several of the sections ran their own marketing programs until the state office in Oakland hired a marketing consultant in the early 1990s. The CIF published state marketing guidelines five years ago, but has never been able to put teeth behind its regulations.

Most California high schools have gone along with the state office's wishes -- except those from the Southern Section, whose leadership says it isn't aware of a rule that prohibits it from running its own program.

The Southern Section, which is more than three times the size of the state's next-largest section, started seeking sponsors some 20 years ago in an effort to keep membership dues in check.

In 1985, sponsorship revenue was 5% of the section's budget. This year, it's 21%. Last year, the Southern Section sponsors generated $552,274; the state, $504,000.

State officials say they have never lost a potential sponsor because of a conflict with a section, but in a memo last February, John Tarman, the CIF's assistant executive director, referred to "guerrilla marketing" tactics by some sections and wrote, "We continue to struggle with internal conflicts."

Tarman contends that big-dollar advertisers aren't willing to share top billing at state championships, so his ability to secure lucrative sponsorships has been inhibited by smaller deals negotiated by some individual sections.

The Southern Section's Costello disagrees, pointing north to Oregon and Washington, where high school events benefit from multiple sponsors. Oregon's finals, he said, are The U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires State Championships; Washington holds The Dairy Farmers Assn. of Washington State Championships Presented by Pacific Northwest Bank.

Tarman doesn't think that will work in California.

"If a section sells a title sponsor, it negates what the state can do on a statewide basis, then that has an impact on a lot of people and a lot of students other than those in the Southern Section," he said. " ... Some areas don't have the potential to market themselves the way the Southern Section can market simply because of geography."

Roger Hogan, past president of the Southern California Toyota Dealers Assn., said he signed a contract with the Southern Section three years ago knowing that trying a statewide deal would be unwieldy because Toyota dealers are divided into different associations within the state.

But Tarman contends that there is strength in numbers, and San Diego Section Commissioner Dennis Ackerman concurs. His section, following the Southern Section's lead, signed its own, smaller agreement with Toyota dealers from San Diego County.

"We have to work together," Ackerman said. "That's the key to this whole thing."

The Southern Section might be willing to compromise, based on a proposal unveiled Thursday. It calls for the state to receive 10% of any marketing revenue secured by an individual section, to be shared by the other sections. It also claims to raise an additional $421,000 "via minimal re-packaging/positioning of the state package."

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