Name Your Price

The year was 2006. A colleague of mine had a connection to a member of senior management with the Mosaic Potash Company. Seeing as students were engaged in a study of natural resources and mining, it seemed fitting to have him visit our classes. I knew very little about this company and found his presentation to the students very engaging. The speaker spent a full hour outlining the economic importance of potash to our province while providing great details surrounding the operations of a potash mine. He ended his presentation with a vague and cryptic statement: “watch for a big announcement from our company to be made public soon”.   True to his words, a few weeks later the following announcement was to be made: The Mosaic company had purchased the naming-rights to the beloved home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Effective June 23, 2006 the facility would become known as “Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field”.
I remember the initial shock, and in some cases, outrage many in the community expressed regarding the proposed name change. The Leader Post interviewed a number of longtime fans who were adamant that Roughrider fans would not embrace this name change, and that it would forever be “Taylor Field” for the true fans. The fact that Mosaic had paid 4 million dollars for the naming rights of the stadium (and not the actual playing surface) did little to console irate fans. Many were upset that management had “sold-out” a nationally beloved sports franchise. But, as they say, time heals old wounds. Ten years later, Regina is on the brink of opening a new stadium. Once again, the Mosaic Company has inked the rights to a 20 year naming rights deal, and this new stadium is slated to open as Mosaic Stadium. Period. No awkward, “Taylor Field at Mosaic Stadium”. And surprisingly , very little (if any) backlash from the community over the proposed name of the new facility. It appears that after a decade, the residents of Saskatchewan have become accustomed to the idea of corporate sponsorship for their team.

Source:http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/mosaic-stadium-regina-damages-1.3630100
Source:http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/mosaic-stadium-regina-damages-1.3630100

But the idea of corporate sponsorship in sports isn’t just taking place in CFL football. Over the past few decades, advertising in hockey has slowly crept from scoreboards to the rink boards, from the rink boards to the ice surface, and from the ice surface to players jerseys. There is a feeling that ads on NHL uniforms are just a matter of time. They have been part of European hockey for years already. And this spring, the NBA announced they will begin allowing advertising on their uniforms beginning with the 2017-2018 season.   It appears that even the multi-billion dollar sports industry is looking for ways to generate additional funding.

photo credit: Rasmus Ristolainen while playing for Finnish team TPS [photo: Teemu Saarinen, HC TPS]
photo credit: Rasmus Ristolainen while playing for Finnish team TPS [photo: Teemu Saarinen, HC TPS]
Week six our EC&I 830 class tackled the topic, Public education has sold its soul to corporate interests in what amounts to a Faustian bargain.
Justine and Tyler argued the agree side, and provided many negative examples of incentive programs and sponsorships school divisions have entered into with large corporations. The video, The Big Business Behind Public School Testing-Glenn Beck Program offered a perspective on standardized testing I had never considered. The guest being interviewed spoke of Pearson Learning, and the money the company generates through involvement in standardized testing. Essentially it was suggested that Pearson lobbies the government arguing that more testing is required. As a result, they are paid to create more tests. It was argued that often the testing is punitive and addresses all students, with failure rates for these tests often hovering around 40%. Pearson gets paid every time a student takes the test, and if a test needs to be retaken, Pearson makes money on these retakes as well. In designing these test for students to fail, Pearson is positioned for large profits. In her blog post, Kelsie Lenihan posted a very cleaver image, in which she strategically placed an “X” across a portion of the Pearson logo, effectively transforming the slogan from “Learning Solutions” to “earning solutions”. She ended her blog by suggesting that as long as teachers are around to demand transparency in education, public schools have not yet sold their souls.

Source: https://kelsielenihanblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/ranty-mcranterson/
Source: https://kelsielenihanblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/ranty-mcranterson/

Our guest, Audrey Watters of Hack Education, further suggested that testing has been big business for 100 years. Unfortunately, “Schools have always been seen as failing.” This is not a new phenomenon just with education technology. In her blog, Nicole Putz ponders, if education systems are perceived in this way, how are we ever supposed to move away from the idea that we need to be saved by funding from outside of government?”
Dean Shareski of Discovery Education offered a number of strong statements for the disagree side. One point he argued is that “Schools aren’t businesses. We can learn some things from all kinds of places but not blindly apply the principles.” Government actions such as the LEAN Initiative may work in organizations dealing with “products”, but in people industries such as education and health care, many of these principles simply don’t work. Another statement he made was that there is a key difference in the way people (and governments) view education.   Do you see it as an investment, or an expenditure? He further urged that all school divisions need outside support. However, he feels the conversation needs to be about the relationships between big-business and education, and the way the relationships are forged and understood. His advice for corporations looking to be involved in the the education sector was this: “We do good, by doing good”. The financials will follow when the main goal is to help students with learning.
In her blog, Janelle Henderson states, “Education is a public commodity. We are not directly charging students to come to our schools (unless you are private or charter), and we are offering the best education possible in tumultuous times.” She also states, “The argument shouldn’t be about selling our educational souls to corporations, but why we believe that standardized testing is actually telling us how we are doing.” Additionally, Shannon Fedorus notes that in Saskatchewan we are in the midst of a funding crisis due to a lack of commitment to education from our current government. As a result, she observes that “Educators tend to be resourceful by nature, and so when they can receive materials and equipment that fundamentally benefit kids, they are apt to take advantage of such, even if this means entering into unsavoury agreements with the corporations that are providing the much needed resources.”
In his closing statements, Dean reminded us that education is a highly relational thing. He argued, “the best things about schools are the people and the relationships with these people.” This is simply something corporations cannot buy.

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14 thoughts on “Name Your Price

  1. Really great summary, Dean. I too really enjoyed what Dean Shareski reminded us at the end of his debate, noting that people and relationships make schools what they are. Although corporations are involved, they can’t ever take away or properly replicate the bonds that are forged in schools. Kids learn through these relationships, with both their peers and teachers. I always have to think of that and be reminded of it when I get frustrated with all other politics and procedures that seem to run our lives sometimes. Thanks again for the great post!

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    1. Well said. I could not agree more, though this is sometimes difficult to keep in perspective at the end of the year when everyone is tired. Thanks for your comments.

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  2. Enjoyed this blog as well as many other ones of yours – Dean did a very good job reminding us that there must and always has been relationships between school and businesses – too be honest education wouldn’t function without these relationships.

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  3. I agree, you’re blogs, along with many others in the class, give me so much more to think about well after the debates. I always read about ideas that I never even thought of! Great job yet again this week, Dean!

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  4. Well said, Dean! I remember the renaming of Taylor Field to Mosaic Stadium! It’s interesting how times change in the 10 years since then. My frustration with naming rights lies with those that change often…. I never seem to be able to remember the actual name of Sask Place…. is it Credit Union Center or T-CUP…. or is that the one downtown… then again does it really matter what it’s called if people are able use the investment to improve the services that they are able to deliver.

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    1. Good point. It certainly seems to matter to the corporations who are willing to spend the money to have their name associated with the team or facility. The money some businesses are willing to spend is incredible!

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  5. Another thoughtful post Dean! Isn’t it funny that what seemed like a huge deal, changing the stadium name, is no longer an issue. What harm does a name change really have- I would say having the money made a positive impact and the only negative impact was a few grumbling fans that eventually got over it. Stephanie’s comment made me wonder… what harm would come from a company wanting to put it’s name on a school? What say would they have in how operations are run- i’m pretty sure Mosaic doesn’t have much of a say when it comes down to how the Riders play… would it be the same if it was a School that was being renamed?

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  6. Would you think, then, that some of this corporatization, particularly with brand placements, is a sign of some of these companies trying to co-opt those relationships, and to build that sort of goodwill? Maybe I’m just a cynic, but it feels like when coke and the like are trying to get their names and images into the schools, its their way of sneaking into those relationships. One example that pops into my head is my school’s lunch program. It’s sponsored by Mosaic, which is awesome for the school, but at the end of the year, a call goes out for thank you notes to the company, which immediately makes me uneasy.

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