Financial and Fundraising Issues in Interscholastic Athletics: Practitioner perspectives from the University of Cincinnati Sport Administration Program

At the high school/interscholastic level, to operate an efficient and effective athletic program, there are four main reasons why fundraising is necessary. Those include but are not limited to:

  • School district budgetary allocations for athletics are inadequate.
  • New technology within the sports equipment, facilities, and sport surface industry that the school wants or needs to purchase.
  • The pressure to do more with less.
  • Managing public perception of the athletic program.

In addition; there are many other challenges facing interscholastic athletic programs across the United States relative to the costs associated with managing a program such as pay to play initiatives, booster organizations, corporate sponsorships as well as a multitude of other financing/fundraising techniques.  Moreover, in terms of how these issues correlate to the public and private sector, it should be noted that any time a public source of funds, like taxes, are either curtailed or even eradicated, a form of privatization will occur naturally.

It is often seen among public schools where school bond levy’s fail and as a result, tough decisions need to be made with the lack of financial resources and one of the areas that generally doesn’t get the public tax funding is athletics. As a result, if certain programs or specific games/contests are to be maintained, then concerted efforts must take place to supplement those non-existent public dollars with private dollars.

There are a variety of financial challenges (like budget cuts) that will continue to escalate in our nation’s schools. However, expecting parents to pay the bill is an unsustainable solution. Therefore, creativity and the aggressive pursuit of alternative funding sources are not merely desirable, but imperative for many interscholastic athletic departments across the United States.

Alternative Sources 

Some of the alternative sources can include; but are certainly not limited to the following:

  • Corporate sponsorships
  • Creative ticket-pricing strategies
  • The concept of outsourcing licensed merchandise and concessions
  • Private donations/booster fundraising including alumni outreach strategies
  • Grantsmanship strategies/initiatives

University of Cincinnati Sport Administration Alumni Weigh In 

Alumni of the University of Cincinnati’s Sport Administration Program who are currently serving as Athletic Directors were asked to weigh-in on this most critical issue and their perspectives clearly demonstrates how they go about obtaining those private sources of revenue.

“Before taking over at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School there were few additional revenue generating sources that we were utilizing. Now two years in the position, we have the following additional revenue sources:

  • Facility Rentals – STVM Athletic Department created a new facility rental policy to generate 10’s of thousands of dollars. Money that we did not see before. 
  • Partnership/advertising agreements – STVM Athletic Department re-worked our partnership agreements with local businesses to bring community to the school and generate additional revenue that we did not have before.
  • Creative Ticket Prices and Packages – STVM Athletic Department raised ticket prices to a standard rate and introduced new season ticket options to generate additional revenue.”

– Kyle Sasala, RAA, Director of Athletics- St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, Akron, Ohio

“Beyond receiving money via our District’s General Fund for our yearly operating budget, the Wooster HS Athletic Department relies on our teams to fundraise for items that are beyond what is essential for their sport (example: team warm-ups). The athletic department uses other revenue streams such as facility rentals, Gault Recreation Center memberships (indoor track and lift zone usage in our rec center attached to the high school), and banner/advertising sales at our athletic facilities, to name a few, to generate more dollars outside of ticket sales and money from our school district’s “General Fund.” We also receive a healthy amount of financial donations “just because” from our generous local businesses.”

Alex Mallue, CAA, Director of Athletics-Wooster High School, Wooster Ohio 

“At Ansonia, we do not have “pay to play” fees, so I definitely have to get creative when it comes to generating revenue. I heavily rely on generating revenue through ticket sales, so it is important to have special events such as Youth Night, Military Night, Champions Night, and a Hall of Fame Game during home athletic events to help encourage community members and alumni who typically do not attend to attend. Our Athletic Boosters do a great job of fundraising through different events that they host and other fundraisers that they put on throughout the year. In this small community, we have several businesses that are very supportive of our school and help out a lot; however, incorporating different sponsorship opportunities such as hanging a sponsor’s banner in the gym, putting sponsor logos on social media graphics, and having in-game sponsors (ex. With that Tiger Touchdown, the Ansonia American Legion will be donating $50 to the Ansonia Athletic Department) is very important in generating revenue.” 

Clay George, RAA, Director of Athletics-Ansonia High School, Ansonia, Ohio


UC SPAD Alumni

UC Sport Administration Alumni at the Ohio Interscholastic Athletic Administrator Association’s State conference in Columbus, OH 

“Working at a smaller school in Maine I am lucky to have a strong budget for the sports offered at my institution. I have been utilizing relationship building with parents to identify those with companies that can help support us financially. My booster club was non-existent when I arrived two years ago, and I am slowly building that as well to help raise money. Boosters are slowly gaining traction and will be a major contributor for my institution in the future.” 

Ian Snowdeal, RAA, Director of Athletics-Great Salt Bay School, Damariscotta, Maine

“Our booster programs are the ones who benefit from the creative ideas. I help with the promotion and make myself available for all their big hitters. The additional things that I do are sell stadium and arena signage, advertising space for programs, streaming channels, and my new thing is a video wall of fame board where I will be selling advertising space. Next year, I am selling advertising space on our digital tickets as we will be cashless.” 

Michael Price, RAA, Director of Athletics-Oxford Area School District, Oxford, Pennsylvania

“At Whiteoak, one thing we have started to take advantage of for this school year has been advertisement spots on our video broadcasts of all our Volleyball and Basketball games. We use HUDL Focus Cameras for all our events, and they have a great software to include our advertisers and logos to the broadcasts that we must give our sponsors the recognition that they deserve, not only from our community, but from the surrounding areas who view our games as well.” 

Miah Call, Director of Athletics-Whiteoak Jr./Sr. High School, Mowrystown, Ohio


As a result, reliance upon corporate sponsorships and booster clubs, private donations/alumni outreach strategies as well as the others mentioned by the University of Cincinnati Sport Administration Alumni working as current A.D.’s are all contemporary dynamics that will help them as well as their school district administrators better manage the prospect of cutting sports or considering the initiation of participation fees.

The key to success in securing external revenue streams and the necessary funds to manage an efficient and effective athletics program must be through a mission-driven, proactively organized, and imaginative group of school-based leaders both at the school and district level working together as a team.

Blog written by Dr. David J. Kelley. Dr. Kelley is a full Professor in the Sport Administration Program within the University of Cincinnati’s School of Human Services and currently serves as the Online Master’s Degree (MSSA (Master of Science in Sport Administration) Program Coordinator.  Dr. Kelley spent over a decade as a teacher, coach and athletic administrator in the Vinton County Local Schools in McArthur, Ohio and holds a Ph.D. from Ohio University. Dr. Kelley is also a Certified Athletic Administrator with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) and has presented multiple workshop presentations on revenue generation strategies relative to grant writing, corporate sponsorships, and the merits of licensed merchandise at the interscholastic level at the National Athletic Director’s Conference held annually in December. Dr. Kelley is the innovator of online education designed for aspiring and working interscholastic athletic administrators with the NIAAA Leadership Training Institute Certification Program.

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