Home U.S. Transit SystemsSEPTA In Philly, the wrong approach to naming rights

In Philly, the wrong approach to naming rights

by Benjamin Kabak

When the Nets’ new arena at the Atlantic Yards area opens up, the subway station beneath it will have a new name. For $4 million spread out over 20 years, Barclays will pay the MTA for the naming rights to the station, and straphangers will get off at Atlantic Ave./Pacific St./Barclays Center.

As the authority isn’t giving up the geographic identifiers, the station still serves its purpose of informing riders where they are, and the agency can draw in some dollars as well. It is the ideal naming rights deal and one cash-strapped transit agencies around the country should strive to duplicate. They can’t, after all, lose sight of the fact that the system must still be effective at making sure people can find their ways to and from various destinations.

In Philadelphia, though, SEPTA is on the verge of a naming rights deal that won’t do anyone favors. According to Plan Philly, the Philadelphia-based transit agency is going to completely rename one of its most popular terminals. The station current at Pattison Ave. is home to many fans heading to Phillies, Eagles, 76ers or Flyers games at the sports complex. For five years and $3 million, the station may become simply the AT&T Station. Every trace of Pattison Ave. would be excised from the system.

Plan Philly says that SEPTA has tried a variety of “non-traditional means” for raising revenue including asking the city’s sports teams for help. A spokesman defended the potential deal and claimed riders would not be confused “because the station is at the end of the line and is ‘unique’ because it serves the sports complex.” The station’s place as a unique destination would in fact work against a naming rights deal that completely removes geographic identifiers from the system.

Over at The Transport Politic, Yonah Freemark doesn’t like the deal. He writes:

But Philadelphia’s decision could be going further because not only does it remove the current name entirely from maps, but it does so to existing stations that have retained their current names for decades. Even worse, the names have no relevance to the areas they serve — it’s not like AT&T has a major facility at Pattison Station. The whole situation raises the frightening prospect in the near future that, instead of riding the Broad Street Subway from City Hall to Pattison, people will take the Coca-Cola Trolley from Pizza Hut to AT&T. Moreover, five years later, considering the current rate of changes in corporate names and sponsorships, all of those names may have to be modified!

There are two fundamental problems with the idea that station names can be sold to the highest bidder: One, doing so challenges a fundamental element of transit service provision, that it is a public service; and two, that the names provide an important connection between the line-based geography of transit systems and the street or neighborhood-based geography of the city around stations.

Freemark notes that the deal nets a pittance for SEPTA as the Barclays deal does for the MTA. When an agency is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, a contract for a few hundred thousand a year doesn’t make a dent, and riders — the customers of the transit agency — are confused. A rider-based quasi-private government agency should not be inconveniencing the riding public.

As Freemark notes, transit stops are integral to neighborhoods and communities. Trading place names for corporate places instead of appending corporate sponsors onto the stations dehumanizes the city. “Removing the geography-based name and replacing it with a corporate name virtually ensures that either infrequent commuters are fated to be completely lost in a transit system with completely irrelevant station names (especially if it’s underground),” he writes, “or that maps and signage are threatened with being overwhelmed with multiple layers of information, some important, some not, an end product that certainly won’t add ease to getting around either.”

As the MTA moves forward with more naming rights deals and its own attempts at securing non-traditional revenue streams, it should take a lesson from Philadelphia. This isn’t the way to go.

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AK June 23, 2010 - 12:16 pm

I don’t necessarily disagree, but Philly got WAY more $$ than the MTA did for the naming rights (which isn’t surprising). Indeed, on a pro-rated basis, they received 3 times what MTA received for Atlantic/Pacific/Barclay’s.

Aaron June 23, 2010 - 1:19 pm

For what it’s worth, I’m not sure that tacking Barlay’s after Atlantic-Pacific would’ve been a bad idea even if they hadn’t paid a dime. I credit MTA for finding a way to get paid for something they probably should’ve done regardless. Afterall, it’s 161st St/Yankee Stadium, not just 161st. Adding the name does serve to help folks find where they’re going.

The Philly situation is completely different, and will be immensely confusing for infrequent commuters or out-of-town visitors.

Son of Spam June 23, 2010 - 2:31 pm

For what it’s worth, I’m not sure that tacking Barlay’s after Atlantic-Pacific would’ve been a bad idea even if they hadn’t paid a dime.

It probably wouldn’t have been “Barclays” if they didn’t pay. I’m assuming that Citibank didn’t want to pony up and that’s why we’re left with the awkwardly named “Mets-Willets Point” and not “Citi Field.” could also be that the MTA didn’t think Citibank was going to make it and didn’t want to pay change the signs. Oh, right, FML.

The Philly situation is completely different, and will be immensely confusing for infrequent commuters or out-of-town visitors.

If this were the South St Station, I would agree, but no one is going to get confused as to where the Sports Complex is.

Benjamin Kabak June 23, 2010 - 2:37 pm

When the Mets announced their naming rights deal for the new stadium, the MTA asked them or Citi to pay to get the corporate name on the station. When the two parties declined, Transit opted to go with Mets-Willets Point instead as the location-specific, company-neutral name.

rhywun June 23, 2010 - 10:12 pm

The Mets ARE a corporation, and like all popular sports teams, a very wealthy one hardly in need of any free advertising. A truly neutral name – and which, unlike my other suggestion above, avoids emphasizing the stadium over the many other attractions in the area – might be “Willets Point-Flushing Meadows”, or why not just “Flushing Meadows”.

Benjamin Kabak June 23, 2010 - 10:19 pm

Because hardly anyone takes the 7 train to go to Flushing Meadows. They take it to go to Mets games. You have to keep some sort of name on something in order to make sure the stations adequately identify why someone would need to go there.

rhywun June 24, 2010 - 7:48 pm

Well, I’ve gotten off there maybe a half-dozen times and not once to go watch baseball. Not everything is about baseball, Ben 🙂

rhywun June 23, 2010 - 10:07 pm

Meanwhile, I disagree with all corporate naming. And yes, the Yankees are a corporation. I’m looking at you too, 8 St-NYU. Not that I have anything against corporations, or advertising – on the contrary. My opposition is based solely on the detrimental effect that such schemes have on usability.

On the other hand, I would have no problem with names like (and I’m just making this up on the fly) “8 St-University” or “Willets Pt-Stadium”.

John Paul N. June 23, 2010 - 11:58 pm

I’m sorry, “8 St-University” and “Willets Pt-Stadium” are just as vague as omitting the identifiers. Times Square was a corporate name that was used for the 1904 station and it stuck. (How would you handle it if history repeated itself except that the station was named Longacre Square?) The same for Columbia and CCNY who have their seals on the stations. Even Pennsylvania Station could also be seen as a corporate name. If you’re looking for compensation from private corporations in a naming rights deal, that’s one issue. But using those names as identifiable landmarks to distinguish between stations is another. And so is when those landmark buildings change, which is unlikely but still possible.

(About the Mets naming above, I initially agreed with Willets Point – Flushing Meadows, but that changed when I read Ben’s response.)

Adirondacker12800 June 24, 2010 - 12:18 pm

And the Pennsylvania Railroad went belly up in 1968 when it merged with the New York Central to become Penn Central which went belly up in 1976. No one ever called it Conrail Station. Only connection to calling Pennsylvania Station today is that it’s where a few trains will take you to Pennsylvania.

rhywun June 24, 2010 - 7:55 pm

Or even better, “8 St”. I have never, ever, heard a person who isn’t a train conductor refer to that station by anything else. My point is that naming stations after landmarks that some people think are the only reason to go there just needlessly complicates things. Yeah, it’s a losing battle but my only concern here is usability. And one of my pet peeves is over-long station names.

Scott E June 23, 2010 - 1:21 pm

Will/does AT&T provide wireless service in the underground station? If not, that’s a PR disaster waiting to happen for the phone company.

Son of Spam June 23, 2010 - 1:52 pm

AT&T not only serves the Pattison Station, it is the sole service provider for the entire Broad St & Market St lines.

Son of Spam June 23, 2010 - 1:40 pm

I speak as a native Philadelphian, and I have absolutely no issue with this station renaming.

If you look at the map now,


The name of the station is “Pattison.” then they indicate that this is where the sports complex is. The sports complex description is not part of the name and will be maintained when Pattison goes away.

99% of the usage of this station is from people who go to games and concerts, the other 1% is neightborhood residents, and that 1% is probably a generous number. Believe me, no one is going to Pattison Station to see other things on Pattison Av.

The answer to the question “where is Citizens Bank Park” is not “Pattison Av.” The answer is: “It’s at the Sports Complex.”

Ad revenue for a struggling agency, very little chance of confusion for event-goers…it would be criminal if SEPTA didn’t make the deal.

John Paul N. June 24, 2010 - 12:06 am

Also consider that the Pattison station is a terminal. So not only would you have the station renamed, but also all destination identifiers on trains and platforms would point to AT&T Station. “This is the Broad Street local to AT&T.” I’d say AT&T got a pretty shrewd deal.

Kid Twist June 23, 2010 - 2:23 pm

If it’s AT&T Station, that probably means your train will go out of service mid-run or you won’t be able to get a train at all when you want one.

Scott E June 23, 2010 - 3:32 pm

Perhaps, but when it does work, it goes really fast!

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