Home International Subways Naming rights again rear their less-than-lucrative heads

Naming rights again rear their less-than-lucrative heads

by Benjamin Kabak

Even with a corporate name, the intricate Atlantic Ave. tiling remains on the Brooklyn station’s walls. (Photo via Second Ave. Sagas on Instagram)

As my Brighton Beach-bound B train departed DeKalb Avenue last night, the conductor mangled the next stop. “Barclays Center, Atlantic-Pacific,” he said, promoting the corporate sponsorship while restoring the station complex’s former name to what many consider it to be the rightful position. I chuckled at the name and realized that $200,000 a year doesn’t go that far. It is but a drop in the bucket as far as the MTA’s bottom line is concerned, and yet it seems to represent the pinnacle of subway corporate sponsorship in New York City.

Now, in this age of transit austerity, naming rights and creative corporate partnerships seem to be the ideas that just won’t die. Every now and then some state legislature is urging his or her local transit agency to go out and find some corporate sponsors. They wonder how hard it can really be. After all, sports teams and non-profits do this all the time.

If only life and the advertising industry were that easy. Transit agencies though do not carry positive connotations as sports stadiums do. People scorn the subways and look down upon the MTA. Thus, transit naming rights are a delicate matter for any corporation, and the executives in charge know it. Barclays was willing to pony up the bucks because the arena is a destination atop the old Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. station. For everyone else, the equation tilts toward no investment.

That said, the effort to secure these dollars goes ever onward. Yesterday, the Madrid Metro announced a three-year, €3 million deal to rename an entire subway line for Vodafone, the European cell phone carrier. As part of the agreement, all signs and maps in the system’s 272 stations and 2311 cars will include the Vodafone logo along with the Line 2 and Sol station names. Recorded announcements will include the name, and Vodafone will earn some display advertising rights in stations as well.

For Madrid, this figure represents a 10 percent bump in advertising income, but it’s a modest amount at best. In U.S. dollars, the investment is $1.3 million a year for an entire line that sees 122,000 passengers a day. Still, Ignacio González, president of the Community of Madrid, boasted of the deal, “Naming rights are an enormous source of income for the metro. We have another 11 lines and many more stations to offer.” Enormous is all relative.

Closer to home, the Massachusetts Senate wants the MBTA to sell station naming rights, and these politicians seem to think they can out-do Madrid. Their off-the-cuff estimates believe the MBTA can generate $20 million in revenue. It’s unclear over what time period the MBTA would realize should revenue, but this isn’t the first time Massachusetts has pondered such an arrangement. So far, though, no naming rights deals have materialized in Boston, but the politicians press on, undeterred by the fiscal reality.

The promise of naming rights revenue, I’ve long maintained, is a false one that allows politicians to shirk on their responsibilities to transit agencies. Instead of finding long-term, sustainable funding sources, politicians point fingers at transit agencies that simply cannot sell undesirable or less-than-lucrative naming rights to their transit assets. Thus, transit systems do not get paid, and transit agencies do not enjoy progressive policies or true investments. Madrid’s $3.9-million, three-year deal should be a warning: The money for transformative transit investments won’t be found in naming rights, and the sooner politicians who control the purse strings come to grips with that reality, the better off the transit riding public will be.

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Todd April 24, 2013 - 1:15 am

Unless they magically improve reliability, I can’t imagine anyone would want to sponsor an entire MTA subway line. Although, “the Time Warner line is down again!” would save me time in complaining about multiple services at once.

pat November 1, 2018 - 12:29 pm

*ahem* Spectrum line.

Stephen Smith April 24, 2013 - 1:38 am

To be fair to Madrid, their new lines are incredibly cheap to build and pretty cheap to operate (driverless!), so 3 million euros goes a lot farther than it would at the MTA. Probably not enough to justify the rhetoric (“enormous source of income”), but still, better than it sounds from New York.

Evan April 24, 2013 - 3:00 am

Small little error, Ignacio González is the president of the Community of Madrid not of the metro system in the city of Madrid.

John-2 April 24, 2013 - 9:08 am

If people think the name makes sense they’ll accept it, even if the acceptance is grudging; if not, all the money in the world isn’t going to make the naming rights worthwhile.

Barclay’s Center is likely to be accepted because riders already accept major arena venues as add-on names to station stops — Willet’s Point had the Shea add-on for years, 161st has alrways gotten the Yankee Stadium addition, and even MSG has bee tagged onto Penn Station (which like Grand Central predates all the arena venues, but sort of falls into the same category). On the other hand, renaming, say, the Lex as the Verizon Line, or taking a building that’s a nondescript corporate headquarters to 90 percent of the riders and making that the new name of a major stop will work about as well as trying to re-brand Sixth Avenue as the Avenue of the Americas did for the city, no matter how hard the tried.

MH April 24, 2013 - 9:08 am

Does MTA pay for the rights to name other stations with sub names for promoting establishments besides Atlantic/Barclays? Such as Rockefeller Center, NYU, Hunter, Yankees, Mets, Brooklyn Museum, etc.

Benjamin Kabak April 24, 2013 - 9:13 am

The MTA doesn’t pay anyone; rather, those entities that want their names on stations pay. That said, only Barclays pays right now. The rest are part of the geographic identifiers based upon the drivers of usage at the respective stations.

Chris C April 24, 2013 - 9:17 am

You got this the wrong way round – this is about other organisations paying the MTA to rename a station NOT the MTA paying organisations to name stations after them.

And if those organsations wanted the MTA to start paying them for having a station named for them I could see the MTA simply renaming the stations to the usual street name format.

TERRANOVA47 April 24, 2013 - 9:30 am

If the present Mayor loved the MTA maybe he should make a multi-million dollar offer for Lexington Avenue -59th Street to become BLOOMBERG

David Brown April 24, 2013 - 10:15 am

If a corporation would be willing to be willing to buy the naming rights and it meant fixing up Stations like West 4th Street or Chambers Street (J), I say why not? I would rather see a name disappear (particularly in the Case of West 4th), if it meant a clean Station.

Benjamin Kabak April 24, 2013 - 10:17 am

No one is saying they shouldn’t sell naming rights, but do you really see corporations lining up to buy such rights for decrepit stations like West 4th or Chambers St.? There’s been a grand total of one deal that I know of in the US in which a corporation paid to clean up the station in exchange for naming rights. That was in Chicago and it involved the opening of a huge new Apple Store. It just isn’t happening otherwise.

John-2 April 24, 2013 - 10:32 am

You really have to have a very unique and/or historic building design if you’re a corporation to even justify paying the MTA to add your name to the station stop, and actually hope that it will lock in that name with the riding public.

Icons like the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center were already in place before the city owned most of the subways, let alone having the MTA with a corporate licensing arm, so associating station stops with those sites dates from Day 1 of the IND Sixth Avenue line. The only relatively new building I can think of that has become a bit associated with it’s station is Citicorp Center at 53rd and Lex, mainly due to the oddball roof design. The MTA could try, say, and re-brand 59th Street-Columbus Circle with the Time-Warner Center name for the right price, but for all it’s size, there’s nothing all that special about it to burn into people’s brains, no matter how often they heard it in the automated announcements.

Tower18 April 24, 2013 - 3:53 pm

I always thought “Canal St – Holland Tunnel” on the 8th Av Line was interesting. Why would the location of the Holland Tunnel matter to subway riders?

John-2 April 24, 2013 - 9:09 pm

Pre-Lincoln Tunnel/pre-Port Authority Bus Terminal, when the Holland and the Pulaski Skyway were your lone path to Newark and the rest of the country, the tiles in the subway at Canal made more sense because bus connections out of Lower and Midtown Manhattan would have all been funneled here and it was a more natural boarding point. Eighty years later it’s just an odd notation.

Andrew April 24, 2013 - 10:24 pm

The Empire State Building isn’t named in any station.

Rockefeller Center has been part of a station name for a long time, but if the tiles on the wall are any indication, it’s not original to the line. Nor, for that matter, is Yankee Stadium. Looks like the IND designers tried to steer clear of giving free advertising to area businesses.

It’s too bad Peter Kalikow didn’t follow suit in 2006.

Bolwerk April 24, 2013 - 10:46 am

If decrepitude is the only problem: sell the revenue stream and fix something like West Fourth or Chambers upfront. $200k/year over a decade or two ought to be enough to secure a pretty sizable loan to fix even a few stations upfront. One of those rare examples of a useful public-private partnership.

I would guess the real problem is those stations probably aren’t really near anything that benefits from naming rights, however.

How much does a typical station cost to maintain?

JMB April 25, 2013 - 7:23 pm

I work in the Municipal building directly above the Chambers street station. Apparently, there is a new museum dedicated to veterans coming down the pipe within the year or so that will be housed in the former BMT north entrance of the building (the current entrance with the Gustavino tiles on the south side was mirrored on the north way back when).

Currently, the former north space is the mail room and a “upper mezzanine” (essentially a half-floor that allows usage in the unique vaulted ceiling area…. you can still see the tile treatment, but its all been white washed).

Maybe this station could copy how the AMNH treatment that was received on the IND 8th ave line? Renovations have been ongoing in preparation for this museum so they are definitely taking it seriously.

JMB April 25, 2013 - 7:29 pm

*I forgot to say, the fact that Chambers was never renovated since construction lends itself to a more historic aspect for the station already. It would make alot of sense to rehabilitate, (rather than renovate) it so as to take advantage of this and harmonize it to the museum. The abandoned central platform could easily be used for some museum-related advertising or exhibits. The former ticket booth on the south mezzanine could be reopened as a quasi-visitors center of sorts……there is serious potential to finally give this station justice.

Chuck April 24, 2013 - 10:36 am

If the MTA is only getting $200k a year for Atlantic/Barclays, I wonder how much they could get for the Aqueduct Racetrack station naming rights from Resorts World.

Would they take into consideration how many people use the station, or is just having your name on the map worth X amount of dollars?

If they do it, I would hope that they charge ResortsWorld at least as much as they are charging the Barclays Center.

Benjamin Kabak April 24, 2013 - 11:31 am

Far more people use Atlantic/Barclays than use the Aqueduct station. It’s not even close really. We’re talking 2500 vs. 35,000 for an average weekday. No way you could charge ResortsWorld more.

Bgriff April 24, 2013 - 12:37 pm

Plus lots of people get exposure to the Barclays Center station by hearing it in announcements while passing through — very few people pass through Aqueduct station.

Chuck April 24, 2013 - 12:47 pm

But should they really be basing the price of the renaming on the popularity of the station (number of users) or should they rather set a flat fee based on the “free” advertising the casino will get by being named on maps, and on strip maps within the cars, conductor announcements, the MTA website, TripPlanner™, etc?

I guess what I’m saying is that the 2500 people who walk through the station and see the signage there already know about the casino/racetrack…why else would they be getting off there? What good does seeing “Resorts World Casino” on the station signage do them?

IMO, the bigger value of renaming the station is for the people or tourists who look at the subway map (or website, etc) and say: “Hey! I can get to the casino by subway, that’s pretty easy, Let’s go throw away our money!” or even “Hey, I didn’t know NYC had a casino. Let’s go throw away our money!”

The MTA would be doing itself a disservice basing station naming rates on # of passengers that pass through the station and underestimating the value of a for-profit, non-landmark entity having an identity on its official documents. At least in this situation, where a station serves a single purpose.

Patrick April 25, 2013 - 2:18 pm

The MTA nor the Casino is even encouraging the use of this station! Riders are instead told to use the ‘Jamaica Superstation’ (for the life of me I can’t remember the correct name of the station) then use a free shuttle provided by ResortsWorld
-Patrick W/O A Blog

peter April 24, 2013 - 12:48 pm

Barclays Bank made out like a bandit on the Atlantic/Pacific renaming. As Ben already noted, $200,000/year is a pittance. But then think about the long term: what happens when the contract with the MTA expires if Barclays declines to renew it? Is the MTA going to rip out all the signage again and turn it back into Atlantic-Pacific? No way. By that time the new name will be well-ensconced in the public consciousness, and the MTA isn’t going to pay out of its own pocket to redo maps and signage. Barclays has effectively purchased the naming rights in perpetuity.

Of course, given the frequency of bank mergers, it’s fully possible that Barclays will change its name before the end of the naming deal. I hope the MTA was far-sighted enough to include a provision for that in the contract, so it won’t be on the hook for the renaming costs.

John-2 April 24, 2013 - 2:20 pm

They’ve already had to deal with that on WMATA, where the MCI Center at Gallery Place became the Verizon Center.

When it comes to corporate arena names, people will adjust to whatever name they hear the arena called on TV in the papers or on the Interwebs. As long as the MTA doesn’t start sticking permanent “Barclay’s Center” tablets on the walls of the three stations in the complex (like the IND did with the H&M wall tiles at Chambers Street-Hudson Terminal World Trade Center, they can adjust to a name change, and so will the riders).

Bolwerk April 24, 2013 - 1:39 pm

Hmm, I just noticed the relief in the image posted up there has a swastika formation.

Chris C April 24, 2013 - 2:38 pm

yes it does a bit but the station (and so I assume the tiles) predate any Nazi connotations of the historic swastika design.

Tower18 April 24, 2013 - 3:54 pm

Yep, BAM in Brooklyn (I think) has swastikas figure prominently in it’s design, along with a bunch of other buildings built pre-1930s

Duke April 24, 2013 - 9:50 pm

There are some places where advertizing simply does not belong. The names of infrastructure elements are one of them. Not only does it go against functionality (where does getting off at “AT&T station” get you?), it also makes our public spaces less pleasant to be in (am I the only one who winces every time I hear a cororate naming rights deal name uttered?).

This goes right along with the nonsense of renaming bridges and tunnels after dead politicians. Nothing of geographical significance should EVER be renamed unless there is something wrong with the existing name.

Andrew April 24, 2013 - 10:15 pm

Time for a friendly history lesson!

Traditionally, the 4th Avenue station was Pacific and the IRT and Brighton stations were Atlantic. In the early 2000’s, the Atlantic name migrated onto the 4th Avenue platforms, to unify the complex, but the Pacific name was never intended to apply anywhere beyond the 4th Avenue side. It wasn’t until the R160’s came in that the Pacific name was ever used on the Brighton platform, probably due to a programming error, and the R142’s correctly omitted it on the IRT. The word “Pacific” never appeared on any of the signage on the IRT or Brighton platforms.

Now, of course, the Pacific name is history, if we’re willing to ignore the large mosaics at the 4th Avenue station. (And how could one ignore them?)


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