The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on businesses last fall, forcing many to limit their donations and sponsorships for Mesa high school athletic programs.
That led to a loss of funds for team booster clubs, which support the athletes and the program through sponsorships and other fundraisers. Many programs saw losses of nearly 50 percent from 2019 – an astronomical hit for some of the bigger teams.
But as high school football season begins this week in Arizona, fall sports teams are preparing for what they hope will be a normal season due to the widespread availability of the vaccine.
And boosters are hoping for better year in terms of revenue and the athletes’ overall well-being.
“I’m excited for the kids because they get to have a somewhat regular season,” said Sara Peavler, the president of the Red Mountain Football Touchdown Club. “I expect it to be much better than last year.”
Peavler is in her first year as president of the Red Mountain Football Touchdown Club but spent time as a member in years past when her oldest son was part of the team. She has another son currently in eighth grade that will eventually join the Red Mountain football program, which she has come to love.
Like most programs, Red Mountain’s boosters rely on sponsorships from businesses, sales at concession stands and selling stadium seats on Friday nights.
But with limited attendance allowed at games last season – Mesa allowed four tickets to be sold per athlete –and concessions and other merchandise tables closed to avoid close contact, the program took a hit.
Peavler reviewed the revenue loss last season and estimated it to be nearly 50 percent.
Additionally, restaurants that usually host the Red Mountain football team for meals the day before every game couldn’t accommodate the varsity’s large roster.
“We weren’t able to do any of that because of COVID,” Peavler said. “But we had families who would provide meals for the different position groups. There was some value in that because they would all go to a house as a group. Some of the parents really enjoyed that so we will still do some of that this year.”
Cyndi Bowers, a mother to 10 boys who have been in one extracurricular activity or another at Mountain View, said the Mountain View Toro Booster Club faced some of the same challenges.
“We didn’t get as many sponsors to buy banners on the field mainly because we weren’t sure if we would even have a season,” Bowers said.
“We also sell a sports program we have at games but we couldn’t get sponsors for that, either. Even when we did have a season, we couldn’t sell merchandise and I know because ticket sales were down the athletic department at Mountain View took a hit also.”
Bowers, who has served with the booster club in numerous roles for nearly 15 years, was treasurer last season before becoming president of the school’s entire booster club organization. The larger boosters organization serves more than just the football program.
Across the board, the football, cheer and band and orchestra had a difficult time raising the type of money they had in year’s past due to the pandemic.
Typically, Bowers said the club sells merchandise at home football games every week.
But to limit interaction, that wasn’t allowed in 2020.
Like Peavler and Red Mountain, Bowers said “at least half” of the total revenue from 2019 wasn’t made in 2020.
Both presidents are hopeful for a complete turnaround this year in terms
of revenue. They both set lower revenue goals to counteract the losses from
In some instances, sponsorships have been easier to come by. They hope for more revenue to come from other avenues with less restrictions.
But it may not return to pre-pandemic levels just yet.
Mesa Public Schools Athletic Director Tommy Eubanks said the district is limiting fan capacity to 75 percent for outdoor events such as football, cross country, golf and swim & dive. Indoor events, which include volleyball and badminton in the fall, will be limited to 50 percent capacity.
“We started to see the trend of other districts sort of going in the same direction and we are just trying to be smart,” Eubanks said. “The most important thing is giving these kids a chance to play this year. It seems logical.”
As of now, Mesa has not imposed a mask mandate for spectators at sporting events.
The district did, however, issue a mandate for students on buses, which will also apply to athletic programs traveling to and from away contests.
Eubanks, in his first year as district athletic director after he spent three years in the same position at Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee, hopes for a “normal” year for high school sports.
That includes more revenue for boosters like Red Mountain, Mountain View and others in the district.
“We’ve been counting down the days to the season,” Bowers said. “You can feel the excitement throughout the team
and throughout parents for a regular season.”