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Brian Hamilton: Company picks schools’ pockets

So I had this brilliant business idea the other day that I’m just positive would make money.

Of course you’re familiar with those wonderful Thin Mints, Somosas and Tagalongs the Girls Scouts sell each year. Well, why not come up with similar recipes right out of Betty Crocker, bake up a few thousand and then send my two daughters out in green smocks to sell them?

We could canvas the community a couple of weeks before the actual annual cookie sales get underway for the scouts and beat them to the punch. And as long as we don’t claim any affiliation with the actual Girls Scouts of America, it’s likely legal.



Ethical?

Puh-lease, like anyone lets ethics get in the way of making a buck these days.




Don’t agree?

Take a look at High School Posters Inc., a company that infiltrates communities each year with essentially the same business approach that I just described. After all, my “brilliant” business plan didn’t occur to me until after I spoke with representatives from the Englewood, Colo. company.

Apparently, this business sends advertising sales representatives out into communities across the country and sells space on posters that display the season schedule of a local high school sports team.

“All we do, as far as the schools are concerned, is we use the game schedules and put them on top of the poster,” said a woman who identified herself as “Gloria,” and wouldn’t provide her last name or position with the company. “We are a for-profit company and are not affiliated with the schools in any way.”

Which, of course, means High School Posters Inc. gets to keep 100 percent of the profit.

Not a bad idea at all, especially in a community like western Nevada County that has always supported high school athletic programs like few others.

The problem is that high schools like Bear River and Nevada Union have been trying to fund their athletic programs the same way.

Back in 2002, Bear River and Nevada Union had their athletic budgets slashed by 65 percent, according to NU Athletics Director Steve Pilcher. At the time, school administrators at Nevada Union met with coaches to determine what the deep cuts in funding would mean for many of the school’s proud sports programs.

“We honestly thought we were going to cut some programs. We actually had a meeting with every head coach to decide whether or not we could cut programs or cut coaching stipends,” Pilcher said. “We lost about 65 percent of the district’s funding that year and it has not come back.

“So what we’ve tried to do is make that up through fundraising. The bottom line was we decided instead of spending less we were going to fundraise more.”

Over the course of a year such efforts can be easily seen throughout the community, whether it’s golf tournaments, car washes, banquets, silent auctions and, yes, team posters.

“We’re listed with the Better Business Bureau. All of our information is available there,” said a man named “Adam,” whom I was forwarded to after asking “Gloria” for further information. Adam also wouldn’t share his last name or position with High School Sports Posters Inc. but did assure me that “all of our sales representatives are monitored constantly” and the reps are trained to not claim any affiliation with the schools.

Adam even said that High School Sports Posters Inc. has “always offered any school organization the opportunity to provide us a list of their advertisers and we promise to not contact them. We’ve never had any of our advertisers on one of their lists.”

Of course, that begs the question of whether any high school organization had been gullible to identify their advertisers to a company that could easily consider them as hot leads for their own sales reps.

But Adam wouldn’t answer that one. Instead he took down my name, my affiliation with the newspaper and my contact information.

“Someone from the corporate office will contact you to answer any further questions,” he said.

It’s not exactly a shocker that I’m still waiting for that call.

Pilcher was quick to point out that there are reputable companies outside the community with whom Nevada Union’s athletic programs have put together such posters. Media All Stars Inc. for example, has produced posters for the NU volleyball program in the past.

But, Pilcher said, that company has provided the Miners with $2,500 in proceeds from the advertising sales of the posters. You know, giving some of the proceeds back to the program you’re selling.

Whether it could be tested in court whether the Colorado company is operating a fraudulent scheme, Pilcher said most school districts simply couldn’t afford the cost of finding out, with the high price of legal fees standing in the way.

Instead, he encourages community business owners who are interested in helping support the programs they’re advertising around to ask about the affiliation with the program.

“If there isn’t a letter from the school accompanying the contract, we have no affiliation with it,” said Pilcher, who is kicking around some ideas on ways to make such posters more uniform for all of NU’s programs and offering advertisers more visibility through each sports season.

Alas, he knows that as long as there is money to be made, there will be companies looking to feed like parasites off successful programs, especially if it is actually completely legal.

“We’ve had our method of business, our paperwork and our method of selling evaluated by attorneys,” said Adam, the man without a last name or a position with High School Posters Inc. that he cared to make public. “We only use schedules from public schools. They are public information. It’s completely legal.”

Maybe so.

But that doesn’t make it right.

ooo

Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column is published Saturdays. He may be reached via e-mail at brianh@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.


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