Earlier this month, business owners and managers around the North Fork received an email asking them to advertise on a printed schedule for the Mattituck varsity football team.
Businesses could pay anywhere from $200 to $800 for an ad in the program.
The email might have appeared to some as a great opportunity to reach fans of the team. But to others more in tune with the local high school football landscape, it was a curious solicitation.
“First of all, Mattituck doesn’t have its own football team,” said Mattituck-Cutchogue School District Superintendent Anne Smith. “We combine with Greenport, so it’s actually Greenport football team and the district cannot and does not solicit any kind of paid advertisement that would come through the Booster Club or the PTA.”
The subject line of the email, which was first reported on May 6 by Southoldlocal.com, read “2017 Mattituck HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL VARSITY SCHEDULE PROGRAM … GO Tuckers.” Mattituck students actually play on a football team nicknamed the Porters.
School officials said the program is not affiliated with the district in any way.
Instead, the email was sent by a senior project director from CW Promotions LLC of Iowa, whose representative denied any wrongdoing in a telephone interview with The Suffolk Times.
Michael Brawson, an assistant manager at CW Promotions, said the company takes steps to clarify for businesses it contacts that it is not affiliated with a school district or other entity. He compared the business to companies such as VistaPrint.
“Our attorneys will say [team] schedules are public information that can be used anywhere,” Mr. Brawson said. “We don’t use official trademarks, we don’t use official logos, we don’t represent ourselves as the school itself.”
CW Promotions typically looks for about five businesses to advertise on schedule programs, he said. Interested businesses must fill out and sign a form that indicates they understand CW Promotions does not represent high school and is not affiliated with any local entity — that it’s strictly selling advertising.
“We wouldn’t go any farther until we have that because we’re not going to be told that we’re misrepresenting or anything like that,” he said. “That can’t be done because once I have that in hand they cannot say they didn’t know.”
Businesses are then assigned a graphic designer who builds an advertisement that must be approved before they purchase the space on the program.
Mr. Brawson said the company can mail the printed copies to businesses that advertise in a schedule program or can set up distribution points in a particular market — typically about 10 high-traffic locations like grocery or convenience stores. An advertiser would initially receive 200 programs and can receive up to 5,000, depending on the size of the market, he said.
Mr. Brawson added that he believes the public doesn’t understand the laws that allow the unaffiliated advertisements and that some people don’t do their research or call CW Promotions themselves before labeling it a “scam.”
But that’s exactly what chambers of commerce around the country have said about the company. Chambers in Missouri and Washington State have posts on their Facebook pages or websites warning of a “scam” and telling members to disregard any communication from the company.
The Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit that tracks marketplace ethics, gave CW Promotions an “F” rating. The BBB posted a business alert stating that the office of the Iowa Attorney General has asked consumers with complaints to contact an investigator from the state Consumer Protection Division.
Several local business owners contacted this week by The Suffolk Times said they were unaware of the solicitation. Mattituck Chamber of Commerce president Danielle Lascala did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Dr. Smith said the school district has reached out to its legal counsel for guidance on how to address the issue of outside solicitations. She said the district wants to make it clear to local businesses that it would never seek advertising money for its sports programs.
“How do we help the public know when it’s not our local Booster Club?” she said she asked attorneys.
Mattituck School Board president Laura Jens-Smith said this type of solicitation is “preying on people’s good nature.”
Dr. Smith said the community is often generous when it comes to school-related fundraisers, whether organized by the Booster Club or the Parent Teacher Association.
“People are so willing to do things for the kids, that you may not read the fine print, so that’s unfortunate that that’s happening,” the superintendent said. “It’s not a fundraiser. You’re getting an advertisement and putting a schedule out that no one here has asked for.”
The school district will continue its legal research on the matter, she said.
“They might be legitimate for what they do, but it feels like they’re using our kids, our teams. It doesn’t feel right,” she said. “Legitimate is one thing, right is another.”
File photo: Greenport/Southold/Mattituck’s Dylan Marlborough on a quarterback keeper Sept. 19, 2014. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)