Could fence ads make Stamford ball fields look 'commercial'? Losing revenue, the city will try it an

STAMFORD - Asked in the past to approve advertising banners for outfield fences at city ballparks, officials have balked.

Now banners are a hit.

Members of the Board of Representatives have approved advertising fees for the heavily used softball fields at Scalzi and Cummings parks, which each season host 180 teams with 3,500 adult players.

Though individual Little Leagues have had fence banners for years, this is the city’s first foray into advertising, Recreation Supervisor Laurie Albano told representatives at their December meeting.

Albano said she hopes the advertising fees will help cover some of the costs of the city’s youth recreation services, which include sports, fitness and dance programs; art, science, chess, music and after-school workshops; summer camps; and special events.

“We have a very large adult softball league, and there’s quite a captured audience” of players and spectators, Albano said. “We’re hoping the city’s mom-and-pop businesses will want to advertise. Since it’s a new initiative, we don’t have a history. Maybe we’ll sell $3,000 or $5,000 at each softball field, but maybe we’ll get surprised and sell more.”

Program fees cover about half the costs of youth recreation offerings, Albano said, though revenue has fallen since the coronavirus pandemic struck in March.

“This is our attempt to bring in more revenue,” she said of the advertising banners. “Our adult softball program hosts a lot of regional and state tournaments - we’re averaging 15 to 20 tournaments from spring to fall. So it’s worth a try.”

Representatives agreed, voting unanimously to charge $800 per season for an advertising banner on a center field fence at a Scalzi or Cummings park softball field; $600 for right or left field; and $400 for a banner behind home plate.

Banners may be displayed from April 1 through Oct. 31 only, and must be appropriate for all ages, according to the board’s resolution.

Albano had to get the board’s OK because the Stamford Code of Ordinances prohibits advertising in public parks without approval.

Officials have been reluctant to allow it.

Beyond that, the policy has been confusing.

Little League Baseball, for example, sold outfield advertisements for years to raise money for uniforms, equipment, field improvements, and to subsidize families that can’t afford the fees. But in 2004 a Parks & Recreation Commission chairman said the banners had to be removed because the ordinance prohibited them.

Little League organizers petitioned the Board of Representatives, which set some policies.

But enforcement was uneven.

In 2018, for example, the city removed an advertisement attached to a scoreboard at the Stamford American Little League field on Vine Road. The ad for a Stamford construction company, whose owner donated the $8,000 scoreboard, had been there for four years.

Moreover, the owner said, the broken scoreboard he replaced had the former donor’s advertisement attached to it for a decade.

Parks & Recreation commissioners said at the time that they had to enforce the rules, and that “citizens don’t like the parks to look like commercial ball fields.”

They acknowledged, however, what one commissioner called “the reality of economics.” The city budget for parks won’t get appreciably bigger, he said at the time, and commercial signs are “going to have a place in almost every park.”

That’s true, Albano said. Many cities and towns now allow outfield banners in public parks, she said.

It’s not just city officials who have opposed advertising in public parks. Residents have come out against it, too.

Residents last year did not want banners on the fence surrounding the soccer field at West Beach on Shippan Avenue, where the 1,600-member Stamford Youth Soccer League plays.

But league leaders said the revenue was critical to keeping kids on the field, and the Board of Representatives voted to allow signs, limiting them to the height of the 3-foot fence and requiring that they face the field, not the street.

By contrast, not one resident spoke against the adult softball league advertising banners during a recent public hearing hosted by the board’s Parks & Recreation Committee.

It’s a new attitude toward advertising in parks.

Albano said some may see it as a benefit for small businesses.

“We hope to see restaurants, bars, gas stations, car dealerships, sporting goods stores, laundromats and similar kinds of businesses take up the space on the fences,” Albano said. “We’re thinking we may get five to eight banners per field at first - we’ll have to see. It may start out slowly and increase over time.”; 203-964-2296.