Six days ago, I helped break the story of the MTA’s first naming rights contract. To recap: As part of the Atlantic Yards deal with Bruce Ratner, the MTA will receive $4 million over 20 years to add Barclays Center to the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. subway stop. While the new name would identify an above-ground attraction, the agency did not want to give free advertising space to Barclays.
Today, The Times editors chimes in with their take on the deal. Based on the short editorial, it’s tough to tell what they really think of the day. They waver on the pluses and harp on the minuses:
We know [$200,000 a year] is a goodly sum and times are very tough for the M.T.A. But there’s reason to be skeptical about all of this, which probably explains why it took so long to sell even this one.
When you get off the train at a subway station, you want to know where you are, not who your sponsor is. Names aren’t as easily changed as all that, especially when they correspond — as the names of subway stations do — to the actual geography of the city.
The names of subway stations are beautifully utilitarian just as they are, shifting only as rapidly as the streets above them shift. The names of their sponsors are likely to shift with the economic climate, and somehow adding a name like Barclays to what is, after all, a public transit station — in Brooklyn — feels even more dissonant. So when it comes to selling naming rights, we’d like to urge the M.T.A. to take another approach: sell the naming rights to individual subway cars. Some Metro-North commuters already know the pleasure of stepping aboard the Thelonius Monk or the John Cheever or the Sojourner Truth. But in these times, it would have to be cash on the barrel from the M.T.A.’s honoree. Perhaps the Donald Trump?
Of course, this ignores the reality that plenty of spots around the city already bear corporate names. Rockefeller Center isn’t a public trust; it’s a private, corporate area. The Yankee Stadium stops, while signifying that a major attraction is nearby, existed at 161st St. and River Ave. long before the original stadium opened in 1923. Ditto for the Mets at Willets Point. If anything, this line of reasoning makes the case against naming rights.
In the end, the MTA isn’t going to stray from identifying the stations. The complex at 42nd St.-Times Square will always carry that name even if it becomes “42nd St.-Times Square brought to you by the Walt Disney Corporation.” If the agency can get some money out of the naming of a station with sacrificing the integrity of the name, then by all means, do it.