First came fee increases. Then there was asking the public for donations and now in a somewhat sad, but not unexpected move, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is looking for official corporate partners to help underwrite the needs of state parks.
The department has already been involved in corporate promotions with companies interested in helping, such as a promotion under way by La Quinta Inns.
The Texas-based corporation is offering to donate 10 percent of a guest’s stay to Texas’ parks if it is booked through a promotional link (www.LQ.com/TPWD).
The need for corporate sponsorship is simple. TPWD doesn’t have enough money to operate and maintain the park system as it exists today. It has downsized, and it continues to look at parks and natural sites that could be transferred to other agencies or mothballed.
The problem, quite simply, is that the Texas Legislature is short-funding the department money that it should be getting from the state’s sporting goods tax fund. That fund takes in about $125 million a year, and 94 percent of that is supposed to go to maintain parks. Instead, the agency is getting about $34 million. The remainder is siphoned to balance the state budget, leaving parks with a budget deficit.
Corporate sponsorship is nothing new to TPWD. One of the all-time great match-ups was the old Lone Star Brewery’s original sponsorship of the ShareLunker program that was appropriately named the Lone Star Lunker program.
Toyota trucks has taken over that sponsorship and that of the Toyota Bass Classic that benefits the department’s urban fishing lakes program.
Actually, the partnership program isn’t limited to just parks. Any tie-in that seems appropriate is going to be considered. If the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones was in charge I am guessing dove season or deer season would soon have a corporate sponsor. TPWD probably won’t take it that far.
Better bring your checkbook because the cost starts at about six figures a year, but doesn’t end there.
“Companies are bidding competitively for this opportunity and so there is not per se a cost,” said Darcy Bontempo, TPWD’s marketing director. “However there is a minimum cash or “same as cash” commitment required of $100,000. There are four level ranges of benefits defined in the (request for proposals), with the highest being $500,000 and above.”
Companies without that kind of budget can make smaller deals with individual parks.
Bontempo said since this was a first-of-its-kind project, no one knows how to project what kind of participation there will be.
The department isn’t looking for just anyone as a sponsor, so I am guessing the Victoria’s Secret swim area at Daingerfield State Park is another one of those that is out. But the department is looking for deep pockets in businesses like car and truck manufacturers (Park in Texas in a Chevrolet), banks (Cash in on Geocaching), drinks (Longhorn Caverns Is Cool With a Coke), energy companies (Our Gas Gets You Outdoors), insurance (the Geico Gecko Trail), wireless phones (AT&T, the Official Phone of Texas Hunting Accidents) and a number of others.
Seriously, and this is serious business, the department is looking for help, but not at any price.
“We have no interest in putting parks up for sale or forming a partnership that in any way dishonors or detracts from the positive image that our park system represents,” said Brent Leisure, Parks Division director. “Naming rights of parks or any type of partner benefit that detracts from the visitors experience is not going to happen. We believe, however, that there may be interest in some corporations to align with our mission and support parks as an integral part of our society.”
Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at email@example.com. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.