September 1, 2017

4 Options for Funding High School Athletics Programs

By Dr. Doug Kuhlmann, Graduate Program Director M.S.A.A. | Athletics Administration

No one wants to deal with financial problems, but like every industry, athletics has to deal with their fair share. Two of the biggest concerns associated with high school sports are revenue and expenses. When revenues are squeezed and expenses increase, as has been the trend, high school programs suffer a double whammy.

So, as budgets shrink, what can be done to continue funding their programs as they reach for excellence? Here are four options:

1. Hire a great athletic director

With the significant growth of competitive sports in our high schools it has become obvious that competent athletic directors are needed to oversee the growth and the day-to-day fiscal operation of these programs. Rather than chopping sports, schools are finding ways to either trim the athletic budget or following one.

2. Adopt a pay-to-play requirement

In an economic climate where school districts are forced to cut back funding of athletic departments, students and parents now are dipping into their own pocketbooks to help pay for the operation of sports programs. Of course, this pay-to-play model should be a last-ditch effort to save school athletics. And while it may be controversial, participation in high school athletics continues to climb year after year despite a majority of schools in our nation implementing a fee structure.

3. Offer sponsorships

Another way to help balance the budget is through sponsorships. High school athletic programs provide their potential sponsors with a customized list of needs—signage, advertising, media, premium seating, corporate hospitality, naming rights and experiential marketing opportunities. It may take a while to form relationships with sponsors, but it’s always worth reaching out.

4. Create a fundraising strategy

Asking people for money with hands out is not effective. Ideas must spark interest in people’s hearts and minds and inspire them to give. While fundraisers are a possible means to an end (of raising funds), the greater impact will be with planned gifts and asking people face to face for their contributions. They need to see how their dollars will impact a school’s programs.

But will the pay-to-play model, the increased reliance on sponsorships, and fundraising help fill the void left by the shrinking budgets?

Perhaps the largest challenge remains the responsibility of accomplishing the various tasks. Athletic administrators should be qualified in sports management, sports development, facility management and operations, and coaching; while placing an increased emphasis on leadership to direct a successful program. This is a seemingly never-ending job description—and yet, the athletic director must also successfully govern a pay-to-play model, fundraise, and generate sponsorships—and be formally educated in fiscal responsibility, budget administration and supervision of a competitive sports programs.

A Master of Science in Athletic Administration from Concordia University, Nebraska will prepare you for the challenges you may face as an athletic director. You’ll gain the skills needed to navigate everything from developing schedules and managing a budget to fundraising and evaluating staff. A top-notch curriculum taught by leading experts and professors will equip you for success in this increasingly complex and dynamic environment.

Learn More: Click to view related resources.
  • Baker, M.  , "Varsity Blues: Tight budgets, skimpy stipends plague area high school programs."
  • Collins, R.  , "Pay-to-play programs: Are they an acceptable solution to our budget woes? ," District Administration, 47(7), July-August.  
  • Foster, G., Greyser, S. A., & Walsh, B., "The business of sports: Text and cases on strategy and management.," Mason: Thomson/Southwestern.
  • Fried, G., Shapiro, S. J., Deschriver, T. D., & Mondello, M. , "Sports finance.  ," Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.
  • Funk, A.  (2009).  , "Backed by business.," Athletic Management
  • Howard, D. & Crompton, J., "Financing sport," Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology. 
  • King, B.  , "High school sports running on empty.," Street and Smith’s Sport Business Journal, 13(15).  
  • Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B.Z. , "The leadership challenge," San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.
  • Pfahler, L.  , "Pay to play is the new norm in high school sports," 
  • Schneider, R.C., Stier, W.F.  , "Recommended educational experiences for high school athletic directors. ," Physical Educator, 58(4), winter.  
  • Vantress, D.  , "Shrinking funds create challenges for high school athletic programs. "
  • Watt, D., "Sports management and administration.," Routledge.  New York, New York.
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