Thursday, September 20, 2007

Land of (Recognition) Opportunity

We like to think of America as the “Land of Opportunity. But how about the land of “recognition opportunity”?

What is a “recognition opportunity”? you might wonder.

Well, if you google the term, you’ll get the picture. The term is rampant. “Recognition opportunities” are being advertised everywhere on the internet.

But if you want to “search” closer to home, check in with the Portland School District. Or the Portland Parks and Recreation Bureau.

Both are in the business of peddling “recognition opportunities.” The opportunities turn out to be on our publicly owned property.

A “recognition opportunity” is the chance for a donor, whether a corporation or an individual, to slap a name or logo on a highly frequented or highly visible public facility like a school gymnasium, stadium or museum.

It is, in short, a concoction of advertising and PR.

Of course, essential to the deal is determining what the recognition is for. In this era of starved public institutions, the exchange involves money. Institutions are coming to rely on “recognition opportunities.”

Some argue that, if the trend continues, we will no longer have public institutions. (Remember when “public” television used to be called “non-commercial”?)

Consider a case that will be coming before the Portland School Board next Monday evening.

Nike and the Portland Trailblazers, neither shy about making themselves recognized, are in line to resurface 13 gymnasium floors in 10 Portland high schools in exchange for some recognition — a logo here, a logo there. Each logo would be viewed hundreds of thousands of times over the ten-year life of the floor. The viewers are from a demographic group sports marketers drool over: kids, with decades of purchasing ahead of them.

The price of the PPS gym floor refinishing work is estimated at $600,000. Seemingly not small change until you look at what advertising costs. And this is gold-standard advertising — sanctioned by our august school system.

If you want to test Nike and the Trailblazers’ motives, all the school district would have to do is agree to take the money and offer a simple, heart-felt thank you.

Good luck.

No, Nike and the Trailblazers are in this for the “recognition,” again and again and again.

Equally troubling is that these “recognition opportunities” are being offered on public facilities without the approval of the public and without a policy in place to govern them. What is the real value of having a Nike logo on 13 gymnasium floors over the next 10 years? What precedent does it set? Why not logos on classroom walls or on the floors of school corridors?

Where does this end?

The school district has no clue, and it’s time it did. That’s why my colleagues and I from the Coalition for Commercial-Free Schools will be calling for the Nike/Trailblazer deal to be tabled until the public and the school board hammer out a policy.

Moreover, the phenomenon of the district having to go hat-in-hand to corporate America with “recognition opportunities” to get gym floors refinished is prima facie evidence that the school district needs a lesson in management. Well-run organizations don’t beg; they budget.

How did the district pay for refinishing the floors 20 years ago? They budgeted for it.

Finally, what does it say to students that “recognition” can be bought? Isn’t recognition something we earn? Moreover, students need to learn about people who don’t seek recognition or “recognition opportunities” at all but find reward enough in the act of giving and seeing results.

How’s that for a lesson?

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