As the MTA struggles to close an ever-widening budget gap, the authority is bent on maximize its revenue sources. If the agency, the argument goes, can find ways to tap out its self-generating revenue streams, the city and state might be more willing to help close the remaining gap. As laughable as the latter part of that line of reasoning sounds, the MTA is at a point where it cannot ignore potential money-making schemes.
Enter the argument for station naming rights. Last June, after being rebuffed by the Mets and Citi over a station naming rights deal in Queens, the MTA secured an annual payment from Barclays to append a corporate moniker to the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. stop. The Barclays Center will one day rise above that busy Brooklyn station, and when the Nets’ new arena opens, the station will be called some permutation of Atlantic Ave./Pacific St./Barclays Center. Whether the corporate name will come first remains to be seen, but the MTA will enjoy 20 annual payments of $200,000 for these rights.
For the MTA, these naming rights deals are forging new ground, and the authority hasn’t formalized publicly how the station names will be structured. Straphangers need the geographic indicators that now mark stations throughout the system, but beyond that, does anything go? Perhaps the MTA could take a cue from the Chicago Transit Authority. In the Windy City, the CTA is in straits as dire as our own MTA, and the agency, as The Sun-Times recently reported, is looking to pursue an aggressive naming rights sales pitch.
Mary Wisniewski spoke to Philip A. Pagano, the head of the CTA, about the naming rights deals. “There may be a real interest by businesses located along our stations to get advertising,” Pagano said. The example he gave was of a nearby hospital. Perhaps that institution would pay for the station name. What sticks out, though, is Pagano’s insistence that every station would retain its so-called traditional name to go along with the sponsor’s branding. In New York, then, for instance, 34th St./Herald Square — already a freely branded station even if that brand is defunct — could become 34th St./Herald Square/Macy’s.
It seems nearly inevitable that transit agencies will resort to station names and that traditionalists will bemoan the corruption of, well, tradition. On the one hand, it’s jarring to hear and see something along the lines of Times Square/42nd St./Disney. On the other, since Day 1, the part of the subway not devoted to travel has always been about advertising. In fact, August Belmont’s original contract for the operation of the IRT lines allowed advertising as long as it didn’t interfere with “easy identification of the stations.”
The only drawback though is the amount of money the MTA could realistically expect to see from these naming rights deals. The Atlantic/Pacific stop is the 29th most popular one in the system, and for that, the agency drew in just $200,000 a year, chump change in the face of an $800 million budget deficit. As much as I believe naming rights to be an inevitable evil, I have to wonder if it’s worth it for such a pittance. Sometimes, tradition deserves to win.