I recently had the chance to speak with Tom Lamb, the Athletic Director and Head Football Coach at Natick (Mass.) High School. Coach Lamb is a member of the Massachusetts Football Hall of Fame and in 2005 became only the 28th coach in Massachusetts history to win 200 football games. Coaching at Natick from 1977-90, Lamb won 111 games and three Super Bowls, before serving as the offensive coordinator at Northeastern University from 1991-94. Coach Lamb returned to high school coaching at Norwood (Mass.), before returning to Natick in 2001 as Head Football Coach and Athletic Director. Lamb added another Super Bowl win to his resume in 2005.
Our discussion began as a follow-up to the story that Natick was considering selling advertising at its athletic venues, and progressed to a discussion of Title IX, recruiting and specialization in high school athletics. Part I will include our conversation on advertising and Title IX and Part II will discuss recruiting and specialization. My sincere thanks to Coach Lamb for taking the time to speak with me and for sharing his insights with Connecticut Sports Law.
Advertising in High School Athletics
Dan Fitzgerald: A few months ago it was reported that Natick was looking into advertising at its sports facilities. Now the NFL has allowed practice uniform sponsors and the WNBA has allowed game uniform sponsors. Is advertising in high school athletics inevitable?
Tom Lamb: I do think that advertising will become more prevalent. In high school athletics, there are basically three categories of advertising. The first category is advertisements on scoreboards, typically by a company that paid for the scoreboard. Most schools have been taken part in this type of advertising. The second category is advertisements on scoreboards and on venues, such as the outfield fences on baseball or softball fields. This is becoming more popular. The third category is advertising on uniforms. This will be the last advertising opportunity schools take advantage of. Although there is interest from advertisers in this regard, most schools are uncomfortable with minors wearing company names on their shoulders. Another more cutting edge category would be broadcasting games over the internet and various other internet-based opportunities that some schools are moving towards.
DF: What are some of the challenges in dealing with advertising?
TL: When new streams of revenue are found, there is always the issue of where the money goes. Does each team or each team’s booster club keep the revenue? Does the athletic department keep the revenue? Or do we start using sports to support the school in general?
DF: Do schools consider morals clauses in contracts with advertisers, to protect against unwanted associations?
TL: Yes. At a basic level schools deem certain products inappropriate for advertising, such as alcohol. Right now, I think schools take a common-sense approach. But as advertising arrangements become more complex, school polices will become more detailed, and contracts will follow suit.
DF: In Florida, there was a recent case against a school district that attempted to reduce the schedule of some girls’ sports, but keep a full football schedule. In that case football generated significant revenue. How is Title IX handled in high school athletics?
TL: Title IX issues in high school differ from those in college in that budgeting issues are rarely a problems. Coaches of different sports are paid the same and staff is paid the same. Scholarships are also not an issue in high school as in college. Football is the odd duck when dealing with Title IX. But most enforcers seem to understand that football is different due to the number of players on a team and the cost of equipment. Ice hockey can present problems with respect to finding equal ice time, and finding enough players to field varsity and junior varsity teams. In addition, efforts should be made to have booster clubs for all sports, although some booster clubs are naturally more active than others.
TL: Football and basketball typically make a little money from gate receipts, but not a lot.