Less fans, money: Boosters struggle to raise funds amid pandemic

Football Frenzy

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As schools head to the football field to compete Friday, they will do so with far fewer sounds, smells and sightseers due to COVID-19 and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. 

Booster groups across West Michigan are coming to terms with the fact that fewer fans cheering in the stands means less money generated from concessions and ticket sales.

This loss of revenue is valued in the tens of thousands of dollars at most public high schools. The money generated through game-day operations helps school districts accomplish many objectives. Primarily offsetting the cost of operating a stadium, coaches’ salaries, officiating crew, insurance, utilities and more. 

Boosters funds also help equip teams with necessary items needed to compete, like helmets and uniforms. 

Forest Hills Central High School expects their loss of booster sales revenue this fall to be around $25,000. On top of that, Athletic Director Clark Udell says the school lost $15,000 during canceled spring events and close to $35,000 from key fundraisers that had to be canceled due to the pandemic. 

“Not only was there COVID through the spring, but we’re also under construction. COVID effected the renovation construction project of our stadium. Football got canceled, so we move up construction schedules, football comes back on. We now have to scramble to find sites to play, what to do with soccer? And now we don’t know how EEE’s going to play itself out,” Udell said. “Needless to say, it’s been an incredibly interesting perfect storm for us.”

In the midst of the storm, booster sponsored fundraising events at Forest Hills Central have too all been canceled. 

“That direct impact on athletic boosters around the area is going to be really felt very hard. As well as the athletic — revenue that we’re not going to get,” Udell said. “Still, I think the biggest thing that we’re trying to do and everyone across the state is — staying thankful that our student-athletes are able to play. We will do whatever we can to make sure they get that opportunity.”

Grand Haven High School’s booster club too needs bolstering. 

“This year is going to be different in a million ways — athletically and certainly financially for schools in general. We’re all suffering,” Athletic Director of Grand Haven High School Scott Robertson said. “The typical revenue we would generate from ticket sales, season passes and obviously, the money our boosters generate from our concession stands will be limited a great deal, a great deal.”

Still, football players from 9th through 12th grades will all be outfitted on brand new Vicis Rflx helmets, made possible only by a generous donation.

“These helmets are the best in the world, the very best possible helmets and safest possible helmets available,” Robertson said. “We could never afford an expense like this if not for the over $70,000 donation from Grand Haven Custom Molding. They saw this as an opportunity to invest in the safety of our football players, but truly an investment like this trickles down to all sports here.”

Money spent on brand new helmets and uniforms allows the school to spend money on other sports like lacrosse, hockey and softball.

“Revenues are tight across the board and they will be, for sure,” Robertson said. “Our coaches know it’s tight this year, so their asks have been few. However, we should be in pretty good shape. It’s just so impossible to tell right now.”

Another unforeseen expense for the football team and hockey teams specifically, splash shields. They cover the entire face of an athlete with clear plastic, protecting them from spreading infectious diseases like COVID-19.

“Those are additional costs that aren’t typical, we wouldn’t typically be doing. They provide an alternative but still meet the need of protecting our kids,” Robertson said. “We also had to pay to overnight ship them to us so our football team could have them ready for Friday. Trust me, it all adds up.”

There will be football on Friday in West Michigan, but it will be different, to say the least. Many schools, like Forest Hills Central, have moved their kickoff time earlier to avoid mosquitos. 

“It’s not the same. No Friday night lights, no band. I feel terrible for the band, but our cheerleaders can be here. I’m thankful our athletes get to play, our parents get to watch,” Udell said. “But it’s different and we’re just trying to remain thankful, and our athletes feel that way too. It just really hits home with the situation we’re in.”

As far as boosters go, they’re left to find new ways to raise the money they need for future expenses amid a pandemic with few answers. 

“We’ll be able to likely weather the storm for a year,” Udell said. “I really think booster groups around the area, and specifically here at Forest Hills Central, are really going to have to think outside the box to figure out how to raise some money.”

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