The idea of selling naming rights or other forms of corporate sponsorship attached to North Cowichan’s public buildings and spaces took a couple of hard knocks last week.
On Aug. 10 Island Savings Credit Union issued a public plea asking people opposed to the chopping down of a maple tree in the Island Savings Centre parking lot not to blame the credit union.
“Since the decision was made by the Island Savings Centre Commission to remove the large maple tree on James Street, some opponents have been voicing their concerns to staff at Island Savings branches,” said John Elzinga, general manager of community services at Island Savings.
“The decision about the future of the maple tree was made by the Island Savings Centre Commission, which is made up of elected officials representing North Cowichan, Duncan and the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD), with no input from the Island Savings division of First West Credit Union,” he said.
Elzinga made it clear that the financial institution has no say over what happens in the contentious issue of whether or not to remove what many consider to be an iconic maple tree as part of a redesign of the Island Centre’s parking lot.
“Island Savings has delivered significant financial support to the community through their sponsorship of the community centre,” Elzinga said. “They have done so without influence over program, service or capital project decisions.”
The credit union pays $100,000 per year over a 10 year contract to have its name on the Island Savings Centre.
That kind of revenue potential is what has the Municipality of North Cowichan considering a corporate sponsorship program of its own for public buildings and spaces.
At its July 20 meeting Brent Barootes, president of the Partnership Group – Sponsorship Specialities, told council that North Cowichan might have the potential to raise $1 million per year getting involved in the $1.6 billion per year Canadian corporate sponsorship industry.
In June North Cowichan staff provided a list of 15 facilities that could generate sponsorship revenues, including: the Crofton Pool, Fuller Lake Arena, the Cowichan Sportsplex and the Sports Hall of Fame.
But an Aug. 11 open letter from University of Victoria Geography Prof. Reuben Rose-Redwood, who has made a study of corporate sponsorship, said communities the size of North Cowichan are out of their league when it comes to making money through corporate sponsorship programs.
The City of Victoria, with twice the population of North Cowichan, studied the idea of corporate sponsorship in 2012 and determined it only had one facility, the Victoria Conference Centre, that would be a lucrative venue for naming rights.
“If a city such as Victoria—the provincial capital with a population over twice the size of the Municipality of North Cowichan—only has one or two potentially viable naming rights assets in economic terms, do you really need to pay a private consultant over $50,000 to use a “proprietary formulae” to determine whether North Cowichan has anything comparable to Victoria’s Conference Centre?” Rose-Redwood asked.
Coun. Rob Douglas, who raised a red flag about the idea of corporate sponsorship idea in July, agreed that the public’s confusion over the role of Island Savings indicates one of the drawbacks with corporate sponsorship: the perception that sponsorship equates to undue influence in the political process.
“I’d say the perception is definitely a concern,” he told the Chronicle.
But he’s also concerned with the level of advertising communities – and especially children and youth – are exposed to. “For me it’s a bigger issue, where we’re bombarded with these ads. We need spaces to be citizens rather than consumers,” he said.
“I think at some point we have to say ‘Enough is enough.’”
Mayor Jon Lefebure said feedback on the proposal to launch a corporate sponsorship program in North Cowichan has come mostly from people opposed to the idea. “I have to say it’s mostly been negative at this point.”
But he said there is potentially quite a bit of revenue to be generated through a sponsorship program. “I can imagine, over time, sponsorships adding up to quite a bit of money,” he said, “but still there is a lot of decision-making before we go ahead.”
He said the imbroglio over Island Savings Centre could have more of an impact on potential sponsors views, rather than community receptivity to a sponsorship program.
“I think it’s a little bit the other way around,” Lefebure said. “I think the sponsor might be weighing this in the balance.”