Selling America’s National Parks by [email protected]

Wharton and other experts discuss the merits of expanding corporate sponsorships of America’s national parks

The National Park Service is grappling with a budget that hasn’t increased in years, resulting in $12 billion in deferred maintenance and a push to find more sources of funding. While the Park Service has had corporate sponsors for decades, there are plans to expand these alliances in a tasteful manner. But is more marketing the answer to budget shortfalls of national landmarks? Wharton marketing professor Americus Reed joins Dan Puskar, who is executive director of the Public Lands Alliance, and Reggie Chapple, division chief of the Office of Partnerships and Philanthropic Stewardship for the National Park Service, to talk about the policy on the [email protected] show, which is part of the Wharton Business Radio network that airs on SiriusXM Channel 111.

[email protected]: When did this idea get started for the National Park Service?

Reggie Chapple: This idea is nothing new. This particular policy, Director’s Order No. 21 on Philanthropic Partnerships, was developed in 1998 with an update in 2008. The notion of having corporations involved with the Park Service actually predates even the policy. Railroads were one of the first corporations that were significantly involved in getting folks out to parks and building some of our first concessionaire stands, like restaurants or hotels. This kind of relationship with corporate America, or having the idea of corporations represented in parks, goes back at least 100 years. Now, the policy is being updated to get us more in alignment with the way in which the American public experiences maybe donor recognition in parks, or the way in which philanthropy is played out in institutions like universities. All of it is guided not only by policy but laws designated by Congress as well.

[email protected]: Part of what’s drawing attention is this concept of naming rights. When a lot of people think naming rights, they think of the massive stadiums that we’ve got across the United States, the 20-year partnerships, companies spending $5 million, $10 million to put their name on the side of a building. That isn’t necessarily what this is, correct?

Chapple: That is correct. It is not the same as their baseball stadium or football stadium. Once again, there are laws designated by Congress that prevent that from happening in a national park. When we say naming rights within the National Park Service, we’re talking about naming rights within a particular facility, probably our visitor’s center. It is for an interior space, for a specified amount, for a specified amount of time. Very different. You’ll never see a big building or a park actually named after a corporation or an individual.

[email protected]: If somebody’s going to Redwoods National Park in California, they’re not going to be driving down the road and seeing signs on the trees?

Chapple: Absolutely not. That will never happen.

[email protected]: There is a funding gap for the Park Service right now. How significant is the need for additional revenue?

Chapple: Well, it is significant. We have $12 billion in deferred maintenance. There are no new appropriations coming from Congress, at least in the past three years, so we have a flat $3 billion budget. Within that, we need assistance to make sure that these places and spaces are available to the American public at a very high level.

In the past, about $200 million has come in per year in terms of philanthropy. It’s not a significant drop in the bucket, but it [isn’t small either]. The policy itself, Director’s Order No. 21, has been designed to make it more flexible and easier for corporations and individuals to partner with the National Park Service in terms of philanthropy.

“You’ll never see a big building or a park actually named after a corporation or an individual.” –Reggie Chapple

[email protected]: How much can the Park Service potentially benefit from opening up these opportunities?

Chapple: These opportunities have been available for the past 10, 15 years. The policy is just making it clear how to go about this.

I think you can see this in our current centennial campaign, which is where we’ve tried out a lot of these ideas where we have interior spaces available for naming rights for a $5 million donation. We’ve also tried out the idea of having logos in parks, where our corporate sponsors are featured on our thank-you banner in parks.?Twitter  Where the banner might be 6 feet, they’re named in a section that is probably about 6 inches long. This is the kind of affiliation that we’re talking about, with corporate logos in parks or having corporate America play a role in parks, in terms of donor recognition.

[email protected]: Since this change has been made, have you started to hear from new entities that have an interest in being involved in this?

Chapple: Yes, we have. We’ve had a significant ramp-up in the interest of corporate America and individuals in the National Park Service. On the corporate side, we’ve had several groups come in that have an alignment with our mission in terms of sustainability. We’ve got Subaru, Coca-Cola. We’ve got our old partner, American Express, which has been with us for at least 20 years, having actually started out the idea of cause marketing with the Statue of Liberty pennies campaign, which raised $1.7 million in 1983. These are ongoing relationships that we’ve had but that are carefully vetted to make sure there’s mission alignment with the particular donor or corporation that’s looking to partner with the Park Service.

[email protected]: Americus, what is your overall reaction to this?

Americus Reed: What I loved about Reggie’s comments were that they were very guarded. They were very, very well-framed to not come across as, “Hey, you know, this is marketing.” I think he’s very careful about saying, “Listen, we need money and it’s got to come from somewhere. If corporate sponsorships step up, we’re going to carefully take a look at them.” This notion he mentioned, mission alignment, … I’m not sure how you get to what that means, when you’re thinking about allowing Coca-Cola to come in and put their name on something. But it’s a very interesting issue.

[email protected]: Dan, what do you think?

Dan Puskar: What Reggie said resonates a lot with me. First, there has been this long history, 100 years of history of public-private support, of their parks. This is a continuation of that. [On] the question of how you think about mission alignment — Americus is right. It’s amazing to see just in the past 15 years how corporate America has embraced corporate social responsibility and really thinking through how they’re going to engage with the environment or national heritage ideas. To be able to create a space for them to partner with the parks, and to be able to do great things for their visitors and the preservation of these spaces, I think is a wonderful thing.

[email protected]: This may be a situation where the Park Service has tried a lot of different things, and they haven’t worked. I don’t want to say it’s a last-ditch effort, but it feels a little bit like that. Do you agree?

Puskar: I wouldn’t say it’s a last-ditch effort. As Reggie pointed out,

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