DALLAS — Katy High School’s Tigers — one of the top ranked high school football teams in Texas and the nation — are once again in the state playoffs. The team’s fame and its potential marketability have officials of the growing suburban Houston district mulling the hiring of a sports marketing firm to help promote the district. With an enrollment that’s adding more than 2,500 students a year, the Katy Independent School District must continue to locate additional revenue streams. But some in the community oppose the plan and the district recently formed a revenue advisory committee tasked with weighing the merits of hiring Titus Sports Marketing. Addressing the committee earlier this month, school board president Eric Duhon said the north Texas firm “wants to help 'showcase’ many [district] events, which would include all KISD programs with the purpose of bringing more revenue to the district.” Titus president Dave Stephenson said the company has been working with the Katy ISD for two years trying to get a contract signed. “We see a huge amount of potential for the already very large and growing district,” he said in an interview. “With about 55,000 students and tremendous demographics for corporations, the potential to market the district’s events is there … and we look forward to working with the district.” Chris Cottrell, co-founder of the Katy Citizen Watchdogs, has urged the district to provide more information on the proposed pact. He believes there’s no need to hire an outside firm to market the district. “The Watchdogs believe there is adequate existing staff already on the district’s payroll that can handle the kind of marketing this outside firm will provide,” Cottrell said. “There are many large businesses here in Katy, and it seems simple enough that all someone from the district has to do is call one of these businesses and discuss naming rights for arenas or stadiums. Why hire an outside company when this appears to be something existing staff can do?” The school board met last Monday night, but the possible deal with Titus wasn’t on the meeting’s agenda, according to assistant director of communications Steve Stanford. “The issue was tabled for now over some concerns in the language in the proposal,” he said.
The revenue advisory committee was set to meet last Tuesday night, but that meeting was postponed.Titus, which has marketing deals with a few other Lone Star State high school football powerhouses, specializes in naming rights for facilities, contract negotiations for TV, radio and Internet rights, advertising sales for scoreboards, and sideline signage. Stephenson was the publisher of a prominent publication on Texas football before starting the sports marketing firm in 2003. A year later, Titus facilitated a 12-year, $1.92 million deal between the Tyler Independent School District and Trinity Mother Frances Health System. The East Texas health system agreed to pay the school district $160,000 a year for naming rights to the 14,000-seat Rose Stadium. In addition to games played by Tyler ISD schools, the stadium has hosted a three-day slate of nationally televised games with marquee schools from across the country in early September the past few years. Tyler ISD athletic director Danny Long said the stadium also serves as a neutral site for state playoff games. The district receives a rental fee and a percentage of the gate from such events, which Long said has been a huge benefit to the district. “I think, as tax dollars get tighter and tighter for school districts, high school sports are the last frontier as far as generating advertising revenue,” he said. Stephenson said the Tyler school district sought his help finding new revenue sources after officials identified more than $1 million of needed costs to revamp the stadium a few years ago.“They didn’t have the staff internally to raise money and didn’t want to go back to voters for another authorization, so we were able to get the projects privately funded and it’s really helped the district increase revenue,” he said. “They were able to double concessions and expand the stadium.” Stephenson said the marketing opportunities for the Katy ISD go beyond the powerhouse football teams. “It certainly helps that there is a football program within the district’s athletic department that everyone knows, but their other high schools excel athletically, as well from volleyball to cross country to baseball,” he said. “There’s also revenue opportunities in place in the academic arena, and our goal is to be wherever the district wants us to be.” The proposed deal would split gross revenue of district events handled by Titus in half with the district and marketing company each receiving 50%. Katy ISD, which serves nearly 54,000 students in 47 schools, carries underlying ratings of Aa3 from Moody’s Investors Service and AA-minus from Standard & Poor’s. The district is adding 2,500 to 3,000 students a year, and analysts cited a “large and diverse tax base, with strong historical and expected growth” as credit strengths. Standard & Poor’s said the district’s taxable assessed value has increased by more than $1 billion annually the past eight years to $16.3 billion in fiscal 2008. Analysts said “continued commercial and residential development is expected (albeit at a somewhat slower pace) due to the district’s direct access to Houston, which has been fueling this growth.” RBC Capital Markets is the financial adviser to the district. The Katy Watchdogs played a part in district voters defeating a $261 million bond package in May 2006. But just six months later the electorate passed a $269.4 million referendum with the help of a separate citizen’s group that pushed for increased voter turnout. Roughly five times as many votes were cast in November than in May, when about 7,500 voted. Officials have steadfastly maintained the need for debt to fund new schools and accommodate the rapid growth of the district. Cottrell said he understands the importance of extracurricular activities, but believes the district places an over emphasis on them. He also has questioned the scope and costs of numerous projects to be funded with the authorized debt. But this is Texas and high school football is king. Going into the weekend, Katy High School’s football team was ranked No. 1 in the state’s 5A division. The Tigers also are No. 4 in the USA Today Super 25 and the team has won three state championships in the past decade. Titus Sports Marketing’s other clients — Southlake Carroll High School and Tyler Robert E. Lee High School — have won numerous other Texas 5A state championships since 2000. Carroll went into the weekend’s playoff games ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 6 in the country. The Dragons ended the 2006 and 2004 seasons as the No. 1 ranked team in Texas, as well as the Super 25, laying claim to the mythical national title each year. The Southlake school district, which is just northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, serves 7,800 students in 11 schools. Carroll has won four of the last five state titles, including a win over Katy in 2005. The Dragons only playoff loss in that span was in the 2003 championship game when Katy beat them 16-15.Tyler Lee won the school’s first state 5A title in 2004.