Home Subway Advertising From Chicago, a lesson in station naming rights

From Chicago, a lesson in station naming rights

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Christopher February 19, 2010 - 2:29 am

To paraphrase my fellow Illinoisan: 200 grand here, 200 grand there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

Benjamin Kabak February 19, 2010 - 8:22 am

If the MTA could somehow sell the naming rights to every single station for $200,000 — which is basically a terrible assumption — the authority could generate around $93 million in additional revenue. I guess that does add up, but that’s not a realistic outcome.

Christopher February 19, 2010 - 11:21 am

True. So they should ask for more for an entire station branding. Several million. Maybe $200K only buys a stairway.

You know? I was reading last night about the new women’s pay toilets in the JR Osaka station, cost is about $3.25 an hour (300-yen) and women get a comfortable place to relax, hair and make-up specialists, herbal tea, and lingerie fittings. How can Japan provide this level of service? Or the clean modern system throughout?

Yes some of that comes down to culture differences, the Japanese are notoriously clean and orderly in public. (They aren’t Singapore but not far from it.) And the system is relatively new compared with ours.

But also?

Their stations are an advertiser’s dream! Every inch of Japanese stations is sponsored, and plastered with advertising. Each of those new restrooms is available for sponsorship opportunities. Handrails on escalators are wrapped with advertising. (South America is similar.) And like the world over it’s not a purely public system.

We are going to have to get over our insistence on having transit be a public amenity unsullied by commerce to seek out more public/private funding whether through ownership or through more creative advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

Alon Levy February 21, 2010 - 1:44 pm

In Japan, there’s no public/private funding. Systems are either fully public, for example Toei, or fully private, for examples JR East and JR West. Sometimes the private systems are government-owned, e.g. Tokyo Metro, but they act as private corporations, and pay taxes as private corporations; they’re nothing like Toei or the MTA, both of which are state agencies.

And it’s a good thing it doesn’t have PPPs, because they routinely make costs go up – the government and the private investors can blame each other for cost escalations, and nobody takes responsibility.

Peter February 19, 2010 - 8:33 am

For the entity buying nameing rights –
Upside: Hundreds of thousands of “impressions” every day as people use the Consolidated Fuzz Inc. Station.
Downside: Potential Post & Daily News Headlines screaming:


Instead of spending effort to get a short term naming rights deal for the Atlantic Ave Station, why not get that welcher Ratner to pay $100 Mil that he already promised to pay the MTA?

Benjamin Kabak February 19, 2010 - 8:39 am

Instead of spending effort to get a short term naming rights deal for the Atlantic Ave Station, why not get that welcher Ratner to pay $100 Mil that he already promised to pay the MTA?

I’m right there with you on that one, but no entity involved — the city, state or MTA — has shown a willingness to do that. It’s pretty inexplicable.

Alon Levy February 21, 2010 - 1:44 pm

It’s always cheaper to buy politicians than to pay up as ordered by contract.

Scott E February 19, 2010 - 8:43 am

Do you really think there’s enough potential advertisers to go around? Already, we see outdated ads (usually for TV programs) on the subways and the railroads, and one of the companies handling MTA advertising is in financial ruin. Meanwhile, the new football stadium at the Meadowlands is still seeking a corporate sponsor, and Long Island’s Westbury Music Fair and LI Ducks Stadium have lost, or will lose, their corporate names.

With all the corporate mergers and renamings that go on, stadium names have become a joke (see PacBell/SBC/AT&T Park in San Francisco, or National Car Rental/Office Depot/Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida). Unless the only real constant in subway advertising, Dr. Zizmor, adopts a stop, this would just make things confusing.

Dan February 19, 2010 - 10:09 am

It’d be awesome to see a bidding war for the 59th/Lex stop. In one corner, Bloomingdale’s. In the other, Dr. Zizmor.

SEAN February 19, 2010 - 10:42 am

Each station could be put out for bid. High profile stations & stations in midtown Manhattan would go for a higher rate then the rest of the system. Here’s how I would structure such a plan in terms of naming rates…

1. Midtown Manhattan stations go for highest rates.
2. Wall Street aret aresa.
3. large transfer stations.
4. High volume stations like Yankee Stadium/ Willatts Point Where the teams involved pay in.
5. rest of the system going to local community groups & businesses.

Moneys collected go towards rehab, cleanning & general upkeep. Although the MTA does mager work & maintains the trackways as they do now.

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pete February 19, 2010 - 2:34 pm

And how long will these station names get unless they purge the existing name? Your going to be waiting while the robot on the PA says the full 20 syllable name each station?

Ed February 19, 2010 - 10:13 pm

This is thinking too small. Sell the naming rights to the entire subway system. That should pull in more than $93 million.


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