Over the years, I’ve taken an interest in the push, more often fruitless than not, for transit agencies to sell naming rights for their train stations. Generally, the desire for operators to realize more revenue has far outpaced the willingness of businesses to pony up the dough, and even in New York, with ridership numbers far outpacing the rest of the nation, the MTA hasn’t found success. The agency a naming rights policy in place but have so far sold the rights to only one station and only for $200,000 a year. Philadelphia though seems to have found the magic touch.
In 2010, SEPTA became one of the first U.S. transit agencies to see real money in a naming rights deal. For $5.4 million over five years — $2 million of which went to SEPTA’s advertising agency — AT&T bought the rights to the Pattison Station near the city’s sports complex. The new name removed any geographical signifier from the station name, and I was skeptical of this approach. It’s hard to argue too much with essentially free money, and SEPTA managed to pocket $3.4 million out of the deal.
Last week, the agency again found a partner for a naming rights deal. This time, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals will pay $4 million for a five-year naming rights deal for the regional rail’s popular Market East station in Center City. As of last week, the stop is now called Jefferson Station, and SEPTA will again earn $3.4 million — or 85 percent — of the total outlay. Jefferson holds an option for an additional four years at $3.4 million.
SEPTA officials patted themselves on the back over the deal. “It speaks volumes about SEPTA’s reputation and role as a driver of the economy that one of the region’s most respected organizations is partnering with SEPTA in such a prominent way,” SEPTA Chairman Pat Deon said.
Jefferson Hospital higher-ups meanwhile were more transparent regarding the benefits of the deal. “We’re transforming ourselves and we’re creating bold new partnerships that deliver a very exciting and different future for Jefferson, for our patients and students. We want everyone to know it and see it every day when they pass through this station,” Jefferson CEO Stephen Klasko said.
This deal for Market East is a much better one for the riders. As a key stop for suburban access to Center City, the Station Formerly Known As Market East sees 26,000 riders per day and offers connection to Philadelphia’s subway and buses. A good portion of those riders are heading to Jefferson as employees, students, patients or visitors. Unlike AT&T, which is a brand name and not a location, Jefferson Station signals to riders a potential destination, and the utility of Market East as a name was unsettled at best.
On another level though, we should question these deals. SEPTA is pocketing $680,000 per year for these naming rights against an annual operating budget of over $1.3 billion. The agency claims the money will allow them to invest in Jefferson Station, but 700 grand only goes so far. Is it worth the effort, the public reeducation campaign and everything in between? I’m still not quite convinced. But when it comes to transit in the United States, a dollar earned is indeed a dollar earned.