Home U.S. Transit SystemsSEPTA For SEPTA, a regional rail naming rights deal takes shape

For SEPTA, a regional rail naming rights deal takes shape

by Benjamin Kabak

SEPTA and Jefferson Hospitals officials salute Market East’s new name. (Photo via SEPTA)

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.

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Quirk September 8, 2014 - 12:25 am

Market East sounded like a better name for the station to be honest.

BruceNY September 8, 2014 - 7:40 am

I am so opposed to this; do we really want Grand Central changed to ‘Wells Fargo’ or ‘Verizon’? If a company wants to adopt a station, like a stretch of highway, put of some advertising and pay to keep it clean–fine. But change the name altogether? No way.

AG September 8, 2014 - 1:56 pm

You make a good point – but Grand Central beings in plenty of revenue already an has it own cache. That’s the same reason Yankee Stadium has no naming rights.

Kevin September 8, 2014 - 7:41 am

The crappy thing is what happens when places stop paying. Then they’ll have to spend money on renaming the station again, confusing people and tourists when they realized the station changed from “Jefferson Station” to “AT&T Avenue”

Nathanael September 8, 2014 - 11:31 am

Yeah. Philadelphia’s method is particularly problematic due to the missing geographic signifiers (as BoerumBum says below); “Pattison-AT&T” would be OK, but “AT&T” isn’t.

I still think of Market East station as Reading Terminal anyway…

Chuck G. September 8, 2014 - 4:40 pm

What about AT&T – Sports & Entertainment Complex?

BoerumBum September 8, 2014 - 8:04 am

Regarding government renaming of locations, I’m strongly opposed. You want to honor Hugh L. Carey by naming infrastructure after him? Build something new. However, regarding selling naming rights, I’m more ambivalent. My only hope is that the new stations have hyphenated names preserving location information. Atlantic-Barclays Station is fine (especially because Barclays is also a destination); for other stations, Pattison-AT&T Station would be better, as it helps both tourists and longtime residents who might not frequent an area very often find their way around.

Corey September 8, 2014 - 8:12 am

Market East was is the unofficial neighborhood name along with the mall above the station and the terminal market next to the station. So it wasn’t just some utility name. I’m not sure how much of those 26,000 go to the Hospital. The Market , Mall and Tourism hubs are all within a few mins of walking from the station. Probably a few thousand walk to the hospital nut not the bulk. SEPTA doesn’t seem to spend its money wisely…so I doubt this deal will result anything.

Lou September 8, 2014 - 12:26 pm

Market East is not really the neighborhood, just a vague geographical place. The station is not really even on Market but on Filbert St. The new Jefferson Station sits below the Reading Terminal, east of the Convention Center, South of Chinatown, North of the Jefferson Hospital Complex, and west of the Gallery Mall. Jefferson is as good a name as Market East and the name “Jefferson” does not scream commercialization like AT&T. I can live with it.

John September 8, 2014 - 8:44 am

Speaking as a tourist, geographic names aren’t really that important, since you don’t know the names of the streets or neighborhoods in the area anyway. You just look at Google and it tells you to get off at Jefferson Station. So as long as the names aren’t obnoxious I tend to have the attitude of “the more money the agency gets, the better.”

Jim D. September 8, 2014 - 9:13 am

“This is an outbound Modell’s-bound D local train. The next stop is Best Buy-dot-com …”

Benjamin Kabak September 8, 2014 - 10:51 am

The MTA’s policy explicitly prevents this luckily, but SEPTA doesn’t have the same in place.

SEAN September 8, 2014 - 10:56 am

I really have no issues with naming rights deals if done correctly, but you lose a little something when the original name is completely removed. As an example, Grand Central/ Met Life vs only Met Life.

Nathanael September 8, 2014 - 11:32 am


Honestly, if they’re going to change a name, how about changing the horribly misnamed Suburban Station. They could get City Hall to sponsor it. 🙂

Lou September 8, 2014 - 12:20 pm

SEPTA is working on getting Comcast to sponsor that station. It’s a good fit because Comcast has its headquarters on to of the station and is building the city’s new tallest next door.

Brooklyn Cowbell Guy September 8, 2014 - 1:10 pm

Then the station can go to crap because Comcast stinks

SEAN September 8, 2014 - 2:06 pm

The Comcast example is a good one. It’s Comcast’s reputation that’s at issue.

An interesting side note on Comcast – they lost there Chicago area systems to Time Warner Cable do to poor customer service, but they may get them back if Comcast buys TWC as they plan to do.

Nathanael September 10, 2014 - 11:26 pm

Eventually Comcast, as an evil monopolist, is going to need to have its infrastructure nationalized, Clement Atlee style. We just have to get rid of the privatization maniacs first.

Nathanael September 10, 2014 - 11:27 pm

(FWIW nobody will ever call it Comcast Station. Nobody. Ever.)

Brooklyn Cowbell Guy September 8, 2014 - 1:06 pm

What they should do is add a corporate name to the exisiting station name.
For example,
79th can be 79th Street – Verizon Station.
Nostrand Ave – Modell’s Station

Benjamin Kabak September 8, 2014 - 1:14 pm

Well, that’s what the MTA’s policy already is.

Stephen - NYC September 8, 2014 - 2:34 pm

Let me be clear: I hate/despise/abhor naming rights deals. Or as I like to call them, corporate johns deals. And, yes, johns as in the world’s oldest profession.
I have no problem with a adopt-a-mile highway cleaning program design. You get your name on a plaque saying you’re cleaning the highway (or in this case, the subway station) and we’re all good. The station name stays the same. Reporters aren’t shilling for you when they write that a concert or a ball game is taking place a some joint. That’s the major sticking point I have with these deals. When written about, the company gets to through advertising in my face just by the fact that a reporter writes about what happened somewhere. And having to see a bank’s or a cable company’s name on a subway stop because of the deal is just salt in the wound. Same with the conductor having to say the name and me having to hear it. I am just glad that the bank in Queens didn’t fork over the money for the #7 stop (yes, it’s disgusting their name is on the stadium).
I go out of my way to NOT patronize corporate johns. Granted, it’s not always possible. Example, I won’t buy Lays or Tostitos chips due to the college bowl game. I’ll buy Utz chips. And I don’t like a company declaring that they are the ‘official’ chip or beer sponsor or airline or widget of some other company. While not naming rights, I still do not like to be thought of as buying something BECAUSE of the deal.

So, again, no more naming rights. Maybe a company could be a Fastrack sponsor? Remember, only with a plaque. And not in emails announcing the suspension. Only in the stations affected by the work.

But as someone else mentioned, what happens when one gets hooked on the sponsor money and then they decide to spend it elsewhere? Now our maintenance has to come from who? Yep, us.

SEAN September 8, 2014 - 5:58 pm

Nearly every large sports or concert venue has a corporate name attached along with it’s programing. Not only that, I’ve even noticed in recent years main event sponcers having secondary sponcers.

Stephen - NYC September 12, 2014 - 11:10 am

Sponsors in and of themselves are not the problem I am referring to. Title sponsors are the naming rights folks. Citibank paying $400 million over 20 years so that their name is on the stadium and in the newspaper is what I am against. If a company’s name is in the program as a ‘gold’ sponsor, that’s fine. I would never see their name in a newspaper story. Those types of sponsors are fine. Advertising should never be in a story written by a reporter. To me, seeing a stadium’s name in story when it’s named by a corporation makes me question the reporter’s impartiality, especially when they repeat the name. Then I ask the question: Are they getting paid to write it 3 or 4 times in the story? It’s all about perception.

lop September 8, 2014 - 6:04 pm

Why would a company sponsor the shutdown of service, even if temporary? Doesn’t sound great. A small sign, even with a logo in the station for as long as they pay for cleaning staff sounds good though. You wouldn’t have to change any names. You would see their ad, and if you so choose could decide not to buy their products anymore.

sonicboy678 September 8, 2014 - 6:29 pm

Let me be clear: your “reasoning” sounds illogical. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see how your reasoning works.

Stephen - NYC September 12, 2014 - 10:53 am

It all started years ago when Reese’s Pieces slapped the E.T. alien on their packages. I stopped buying them because I did not want to be thought of as buying them BECAUSE of the E.T. tie-in. Fast-forward to college bowl games and stadiums being named by corporate johns. I do not like to be thought of as buying Tostitos chips because they are the naming rights sponsor for a bowl game. Granted, they really don’t have a way to know why I am buying them, but that’s how my warped logic works. But now, more and more theaters and such (see the corporate john-named joint in Brooklyn) have those types of names. So, when a neutral party (i.e., a reporter) is writing about an event that takes place there, they are writing the john’s name. To me, that is salt in the wound. If I didn’t have to see the name unless I got a ‘program’ at the concert or ball game, then fine. But to see it in newspaper stories, well, it annoys me very much. There are plenty of ways to advertise one’s product and services, and having a naming rights deal is not the way to go if you want me to buy your stuff.
I agree that my logic is not the common way to think about the problem, but I am old enough (the E.T. reference should have given that away) to remember when places and events had real names, not corporate naming rights.

Duke September 8, 2014 - 7:37 pm

SEPTA certainly seems to have embraced the idea of a corporate dystopia where everything, including the naming of public infrastructure, is sold at auction to the highest bidder.

Alon Levy September 9, 2014 - 1:11 am

Pyongyang names its subway stations after communist buzzwords, American cities name their subway stations after big corporations. The low-circulation left-wing magazine article practically writes itself.


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