1. Welcome to SportsJournalists.com, a friendly forum for discussing all things sports and journalism.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register for a free account to get access to the following site features:
    • Reply to discussions and create your own threads.
    • Access to private conversations with other members.
    • Fewer ads.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon!

Another long one for everyone's enjoyment

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Hustle, Nov 8, 2007.

  1. Hustle

    Hustle Guest

    We stole this idea from the KC Star's football preview: the cost of putting on a high school football game. So I tried to figure out everything that could feasibly go into that. The story was done over parts of three weeks; I would've preferred to have some sources outside the county/region, but never heard back from people at Nike, Russell, Schutt, Motorola or Circle Systems Group.

    Have at it...


    Bill Stearns is looking for a scoreboard. Ideally, Potomac's activities director would locate a suitable model and have it installed in time for the undefeated Panthers' first postseason game. Ideally.

    Working within a stretched budget already, Stearns had to postpone replacing the scoreboard, the one hit by lightning last spring. No one's quite sure how long it'll continue to work; Stearns hopes it's just long enough until he or coach Tony Lilly can locate a sponsor. Stearns' budget simply can't take the hit.

    They've already walked down this path. Potomac's Bermuda grass field, the same lush surface as you'd find at FedEx Field, was paid for by donations. So was the mower that was needed to care for the finicky grass.

    "That mower runs $20,000," Stearns said, "for the small one."

    Exactly the same price that Stearns expects to pay for that scoreboard.

    For most high schools, football remains an expensive undertaking with costs that continues to escalate. While football continues to make money, the profit margin is shrinking. That means less money to distribute to other programs that aren't as profitable or not profitable at all.

    Costs aren't limited to the football program itself; putting on a football game on Friday nights is an expensive proposition: workers, officials, game-only equipment like chains and pylons are all integral to hosting a varsity football game. And, at some point, all must be paid for, whether through donations or from the school's athletic budget.

    So when Stearns hears a patron complain about paying five dollars for a ticket, he has a handy answer, a stash of 5 1/2-inch by 3-inch photocopies that read:

    "WHERE DOES THE MONEY FROM TICKET SALES GO???? Uniforms, bats, balls, officials, grass seed, fertilizer, etc. Prince William County Schools pays for coaching supplements and utilities. All other costs for extracurricular activities are paid for with gate receipts and fundraisers."

    The grass and the mower -- and the thousands of dollars needed each year to maintain them -- are Stearns' responsibility.


    Bermuda fields, like those at FedEx Field, Osbourn Park and Potomac, provide superb regrowth. But to thrive, Bermuda needs a sandy environment; introducing that element to a football fields costs money that comes out of a schools activities budget.

    "It's expensive to take care of that, that's kind of been the downside, but the field is just awesome," Stearns said. "You have to plan on, probably, $10,000 a year for care."

    When the weather turns colder, the grass goes dormant and takes on a sickly, yellow look. To preserve the green field for teams that use the field in the spring, some schools re-seed the field with a hardier grass to survive the winter.

    But for all its costs and care, Bermuda saves money in the longer term: instead of spending money to encourage growth as the field gets used, growth is inherent to the species.

    "You can wipe that field out, and it's pretty much going to be back the way it was the year before by the time you play your first game in early September," OP activities director Dan Evans said.

    There's no Bermuda field at Brentsville, but activities director Jane Earman found a way to balance saving money while keeping her field in shape: Let the kids handle it.

    She pays a fee to the school's horticulture class, which works on the field during the week. After a Friday game, the field isn't touched until Monday, but Earman said the field is always ready to go for the next home event.

    "My horticulture guy, who's also a football (and) wrestling coach, that's their big project in the fall," Earman said. "He takes care of the irrigation, he does the fertilization."

    She did purchase an aerator and a roller for the field -- between $2,000-$3,000, which forced Earman to work some magic with her budget -- and the equipment was put to use as soon as it arrived.

    But merely cultivating a swath of Bermuda or any other grass, however, doesn't make a football field. Fields of any sport are defined by their lines; a football field is instantly distinguishable from a lacrosse field.

    Every boundary and yard line begins in a can of spray paint, which, according to one catalog, runs $50 for a case of 12 cans. Battlefield activities director Ben Stutler buys paint in three-gallon buckets at $60 apiece. While preparing for a recent Bobcat home game, Stutler said he used five buckets.

    A machine to apply the paint could cost as little as $150 for a simple push cart that uses individual cans. A larger, motorized machine that uses paint by the gallon could cost as much as $3,000.

    And the paint isn't just for home games. Freedom activities director Brad Qualls said he paints his field every week, regardless of where the Eagles are playing. Doing so, he said, prevents him from having to repaint from scratch leading up to a home game.

    The more adornments a field receives, the more it costs. Yardage numbers are standard at most schools, but they aren't drawn by hand. Plastic stencils outline the numbers; a full set of numbers, a "G" for the goalline and directional arrows may cost around $750.

    Stencil letters for the end zone ($80 each, according to one activities director) and a stencil logo for midfield ($250) all add to the ambience as well as adding to the price. At that rate, putting "Stonewall Jackson" and "Raiders" in the school's end zones would cost more than $1,100.


    Equipment costs are the biggest expense for any football program. Evans, an activities director since 1995, said the price of helmets alone has increased 60-70 percent during his tenure.

    And he expects to replace some helmets after each season. During the offseason, helmets and shoulder pads are reconditioned to make sure they are safe for use during the next season. The cost is derived from the amount of equipment; the more players, the more it costs. Schools with larger programs might spend close to $10,000.

    If the equipment is beyond repair or has some other flaw that jeopardizes its safety, it will be rejected. Activities directors count on a portion of their equipment being rejected and expect to buy some new helmets and shoulder pads each year, but that too quickly adds up.

    A top-of-the-line Riddell model costs more than $200 per helmet, according to the company's Web site; shoulder pads can run that much as well. The activities directors interviewed said they are spending around $150 for each.

    Activities directors make these purchases in the offseason; the actual number of athletes -- and what size equipment they need -- may fluctuate between the time of purchase and the start of preseason camp. Incoming freshmen also pose a problem in planning: their numbers and sizes are all unknown until camp begins.

    "One year, they needed all big helmets, so we loaded up on big helmets," Evans said. "Now, this year, we've tended to need to large or medium helmets. So what we ended up doing was ordering an extra dozen helmets or 15 helmets. When you look at it, that's $2,000 ... you weren't looking to spend that much money that we ended up doing."

    Much like the field additions, jerseys can be as plain or as elaborate as a team can afford. According to a recent Russell Athletic catalog, a plain, stock jersey and pant could cost as little as $35; a better fabric and more intricate design could easily run more than $200. Additional items, like nameplates, piping and customized neck designs, increase the price. A Nike catalog showed a similar range of prices.

    Several of the activities directors said all of their teams are on a rotation to replace uniforms every few years. The varsity receives the new jerseys, while the old varsity jerseys are handed down to the junior varsity. The freshman squad then receives the old J.V. jerseys.

    "At the end of the nine years," Evans said with a laugh, "they're ready for replacement."


    Necessary equipment extends off the field. According to one catalog, chains could cost $580; a pro-style down marker is just over $300. And an activities director will likely buy two sets, using one as a backup.

    That same catalog lists foam sideline markers, placed every 10 yards, at $220; two sets -- one for each sideline -- double the price. A set of four pylons is $42; again, the price doubles for both end zones. Two of their best goalpost covers would total $400 and the optional lettering adds around $100 to the final bill.

    A sideline tarp for the players to stand on is also a long-term investment. It prevents players' cleats from chewing up one part of the field, but it can cost about $4,000.

    The players aren't the only ones benefiting from the equipment. The priciest expenditure for coaches is their communication system: Stutler, a former head coach at Potomac, said while he was with the Panthers, they bought a new system for six coaches -- three on the field, three in the press box -- that cost just under $5,000.

    "There are cheaper ones and there are more expensive ones," he said.

    Stutler also bought polo shirts for all of the school's coaches ($30 apiece) and provides hats ($10) to each of his coaches as well.

    "It looks good and it's a little something for them to have," he said. "You'd like to have unity among your players, and that's unity among your coaches."


    Just as the football program needs its share of equipment, so do the other school-sponsored entities that attend the game: cheerleaders, the band and the athletic trainer.

    At Osbourn Park, the cheerleading squad goes through more uniforms than the football team: the varsity has three uniforms -- including a new set each year -- while the JV and freshman squads have two each. Coach Jessica Burns said that happens because the cheerleaders attend more functions than the football team does, plus they'll need to use them during the winter season as well.

    The Jackets' cheerleading team is in the same uniform rotation as the football squad, but uses fundraisers to pay for new uniforms as well as a trip to cheerleading camp. But those uniforms are considerably more expensive; Burns said she may spend as much as $15,000 on new uniforms. Megaphones run $28 each, and pom-poms can get pricey at $36 a set. But the metallic strands add to the total cost.

    "That's the new trend: glittery," Burns said.

    The crates that cheerleaders stand on are usually donations that they solicit from local grocery stores.

    Even with cheerleading's expensive uniforms and football's overall cost, no entity compares to the band for sheer expense.

    "I could tell you that a set of band uniforms cost upwards of $80,000," Forest Park band director Don Magee said. "And you're looking at, in our marching band, easily a quarter million dollars worth of instruments."

    The difference with band is that those uniforms and instruments hold up far longer. Magee said he hopes that the uniforms last a decade and the instruments last 20 years.

    The Bruins' band raises much of its own money, which gives Magee the flexibility to get whatever he wants for his program, provided he can raise the money for it.

    They must also pay for music, which is cheaper for published music and more expensive for an original composition. Forest Park's band also outsources the choreography for its halftime show, which costs around $2,000. Additionally, there are transportation costs to take the equipment to each venue.

    "The [color] guard out there, their flags, their uniforms are pretty much an annual expense," Jeff Cobb, president of the Bruins Band Boosters, said. "The marching band program, for the year, is about $40,000. ... Other than Mr. Magee's salary and one other part-time salary that we use for the band, the rest of it comes from fundraising or fees that we have to charge."

    On the other side of the field, Gar-Field athletic trainer Jenny Carver stands near her bag of equipment. She estimates that she has around $1,700 worth of supplies at the field, though most of that is tied up in a $1,500 defibrillator.

    She has plenty of tape and pre-wrap for the game, but has primary care for more serious injuries, like splints and crutches. She said she gets a budget through Indians activities director Rudy Zimmermann that pays for most supplies. Beyond that, she too must fundraise.

    "I sell things called Gator Pops, like it's frozen Gatorade, for like 50 cents," Carver said. "Most of the athletes, whenever I don't have them, they're freaking out about it."


    Along with the rise of equipment reconditioning, paying officials for their work has also become increasingly expensive. Stutler estimates that he spent $4,800 just on officials; for every athletic event throughout the season, he spent just under $30,000.

    "They deserve every penny they get, but it's just the way things are," Evans said.

    For those not involved on the field, some schools have an all-volunteer workforce to take tickets, work in the press box and perform other assorted tasks. At Osbourn Park, Evans said that the workers are also part of the school and their schedule is adjusted around home football games.

    But when weather forces postponements, as it did a few weeks ago, that's a number of schedules that must also be reworked.

    Inclement weather at varsity football games has a ripple effect. If the game is played in bad weather, the attendance will likely be considerably lower, lessening the money that comes into the school. On a Monday night, with work and school the following day, people may be less inclined to attend a game, also decreasing revenues. Depending on what happens during the rest of the school year, it may have an effect on the budgets for the following year.

    No matter the weather, the football program chugs along. The bills never stop. Running -- and paying for -- a football program is a year-long process. The end of one season is the beginning of another billing cycle.

    Most times it's predictable, like games costs and equipment reconditioning and equipment replacement. Sometimes it's not, like the tenuous life of Stearns' scoreboard.

    Sooner, not later, the bill for a new scoreboard will come due. And Stearns will have to figure out how to make it work.

    "We're now out there trying to find someone to donate us a scoreboard," Stearns said. "Because I don't have $20,000 to spend on a scoreboard ... The big ticket items really hurt you."
  2. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    I'm so ripping this idea off for basketball season.
    How did you illustrate it?
    Portraits, product shots, some fancy pants graphics? Some combination?
    And just a note, a private school in my state has a $15,000 budget for football coaches gear.
    They get outfits for home, away, practice clothes, hats, visors, cold and rainy weather gear and on it goes.
    So that line about the $30 polo shirts made me laugh and laugh.
  3. Hustle

    Hustle Guest

    We didn't get to put a whole lot of effort into design, unfortunately. Photo dept. is perennially stretched thin and I was busy reporting/writing the thing, otherwise I'd have been able to put some quality time into it.

    We did manage to get a generic football stadium shot during a game and overlay some of the costs onto the photo.

    And $15K for coaches gear? Damn. I imagine the rest of their setup is pretty sweet, then. I looked through a Rogers catalog for tackling dummies, blocking sleds, etc. and that stuff typically ran in the multiple thousands of dollars, even for the basic stuff. If they can drop that for coaches' clothing, then I'd guess they're not ordering one thing at a time from Rogers...
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page