Is Whole New Home Plate Coming

November 10, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Apparently the state's plate isn't full. In fact, it has enough room for the Lions, Pistons, Tigers, Shock, Fury and Red Wings. And the youth of Detroit look to be the beneficiaries.

But is there room for the Griffins, Rampage and Whitecaps on the plate? And will Grand Rapids youth also get a financial boost? Only time, and a push for legislative action, will tell.

The House will be asked to add an amendment to the Michigan Vehicle Code soon that would allow the logos of the Detroit professional sports teams be stamped on specialty and collector license plates. Proceeds from plate sales would go to youth athletic organizations tied to the teams.

"It came from a desire to help youth, to assist in funding programs that give kids an opportunity to participate in sports programs," said Rep. Tupac Hunter, a Wayne County Democrat, on why he sponsored the bill.

"I personally believe that not only is it about physical development, but this is also about promoting leadership. I think sports has always been a good area for kids to learn a lot of the social skills and leadership skills that carry them in later life," added Hunter, who represents the 9th District.

The specialty license plates, also known as fundraising plates, have featured the logos of 15 state-supported universities like Western Michigan and GVSU; six state-supported causes like the Children's Trust Fund and the Veterans Memorial; and the Northern Michigan Olympic Center. There is also a patriotic plate that benefits the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

But the collector plates have been the exclusive territory of the universities.

A new specialty plate costs $35, in addition to the registration fee, and the university or cause receives $25 of that charge. Renewing one costs $10, on top of the registration fee, and the entire renewal charge goes to the school or cause. The collector plate, stamped with Be True To Your School, also sells for $35 with $25 of that one-time fee going to the university.

Over 35,000 plates with the Michigan State University "S" have been sold as of Oct. 1, while the University of Michigan's block "M" is at nearly 28,000 plates.

So far, Hunter said school administrators haven't voiced opposition to adding the pro teams' logos to the plates, even though doing so would create sales competition for them.

"Some people have expressed concerns about that. But the universities have not, to my knowledge," he said.

Ninety-eight percent of the proceeds from sales of Red Wings and Tigers plates would go to the Ilitch Charities for Children. Lions Charities would get the proceeds from the sale of Lions plates, and the Pistons Foundation would get the same from Pistons plates. Proceeds from Fury and Shock sales would go to youth football and basketball programs.

Two percent of all pro-team proceeds would go to the U.S. Olympic Education Center.

The Griffins are affiliated with the Red Wings, while the Whitecaps are a farm club of the Tigers. The Detroit Fury is also an Arena Football League franchise like the Rampage. For the local teams to get their logos on the plates and proceeds for their youth groups, DP Fox Sports and the West Michigan Whitecaps would have to get an area lawmaker to sponsor a bill and then guide it through both chambers and into the governor's office.

CEO and Managing Partner Lew Chamberlin has his Whitecaps already looking into the matter. He said that Whitecaps Sales Manager Dan McCrath recently touched base with Rep. Michael Sak, who represents the 76th District, about possibly sponsoring legislation.

"I know they kicked around that this might be an interesting possibility for us to raise money for the Inner-City Youth Baseball Program. Dan came to me and asked if I would be interested in pursuing this, and I said absolutely," said Chamberlin.

Chamberlin said his front office was collecting more information and once that was gathered, he and his staff would review it and go from there.

"We are certainly interested in pursuing the possibilities presented by this kind of opportunity. It's too early to know exactly what the details are or what is required on our part, but we're certainly interested in looking into it," he said.

COO Scott Gorsline told the Business Journal that DP Fox, majority owner of the Griffins and sole owner of the Rampage, shares that interest.

"Why not try to do something similar for the Grand Rapids teams?" he said.

The Griffins have their Youth Foundation, while the Rampage funnels its charitable efforts directly through the team.

Hunter feels the bill is coming at a crucial time. After-school programs are being cut in his district and parents of Detroit public-school children may be asked to pay so their kids can play sports.

"We want to utilize the popularity of many of Michigan's professional sports teams to raise monies to help programs across the state that help youth involved in those sports," he said.

Hunter also feels that the House, Senate and Gov. Jennifer Granholm will support the bill.

"We have the momentum. The teams are on board. People are very excited about the opportunity to work with these sports teams to raise money for kids. I think it's a concept that a lot of people have bought into and I think it will move."

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