Home U.S. Transit SystemsMBTA From Boston, a ‘Hail Mary’ on naming rights

From Boston, a ‘Hail Mary’ on naming rights

by Benjamin Kabak

Every few months, another transit agency comes out with a proposal to generate revenue through naming rights, and every few months, I sit back and shake my head. The money and the interest just hasn’t materialized yet, and while its time might one day arrive, selling naming rights is much more of an idea in theory rather than practice. This time around, Boston is going to learn this lesson.

Up in Beantown, the MBTA has some ambitious expansion plans on the table. Using DMUs, the transit agency hopes to drastically expand its reach over the next ten years and will of course need money to do it. One way to generate funds could be through naming rights, and although the MBTA has been talking about naming rights for nearly a year, the agency seems ready to try to draw in advertisers.

Boston Magazine has the story:

For the low, low price of $1 million, corporations and businesses can slap their name on select MBTA stops or stations, or even name an entire rapid transit line after their brand. [A few weeks ago,] the MBTA put out Requests for Proposals for the naming rights on nine stations along the system, which includes Back Bay, Downtown Crossing, Park Street, North Station, State Street, Boylston, South Station, and Yawkey Way.

The asking price to add a moniker to each station starts at $1 million per year, except for Yawkey Way, which starts at $500,000. The contracts would last five years. The call for interested companies to shell out cash to rename stops and stations also includes an opportunity to have their name on some rapid transit lines—specifically the Red, Blue, and Green Lines. According to documents, prices vary for each line, but the most expensive starting bid is on the Green Line for $2 million per year.

If a company opts to purchase transit line naming rights, they would have their brand printed on station maps, and on system signage. The chance to take over the naming rights of certain MBTA properties, under the “Corporate Sponsorship Program,” was a directive of the state legislature as part of an extensive transportation bill passed over the summer.

That last line — that’s the crazy part. In the same bill that will allow the MBTA to run T service later than it currently does, the Massachusetts legislature required the agency to issue RFPs for station naming rights. Agency officials still believe naming rights could generate upwards of $18 million for transit, but so far, the grand total has been a whopping $0 in revenue after two years of searching.

According to the MBTA’s RFP, advertisers could host promotional events in their stations, have their brand broadcast via the subway’s PA system and have their logos appear on the T subway map. Rightly so, though, station names would retain their geographic identifier while adding the advertiser much as the MTA has done with Atlantic Ave./Barclays Center.

On the one hand, it’s admirable for the MBTA to try, and maybe they can be the ones to succeed. On the other hand, it seems like these efforts have been a waste of time and money. SEPTA in Philadelphia has managed to sell one subway station, and even the MTA hasn’t been successful here in New York. Furthermore, the MBTA is asking for an annual fee that’s five times what the MTA received from Barclays for stations that have, at most, two-thirds the ridership of Atlantic Ave. Many have much less than that.

Overall, the idea of corporate naming rights as a revenue generator seems to have peaked. The Nationals’ baseball stadium in DC, for instance, has gone without a corporate sponsor for nearly a decade, and Met Life paid only around $1 million per year to name the new Meadowlands stadium. As skeptical as I am, though, if the MBTA’s legally-required due diligence leads anywhere, it will have been worth it.

You may also like


Josh K January 14, 2014 - 11:32 pm

Comparing the MBTA RFP with Barclay’s is apples to oranges. MTA’s market was depressed by the fact that instead of issuing a wide RFP for the network* of stations, they were looking to monetise one station and were working with essentially one potential sponsor (it’s not like it would have been called the McDonald’s-Atlantic Ave Station). That depresses the market pretty significantly.

One could make the argument that if they threw the desire for contextual branding out the window and opened up the network to a wide pallet of sponsors (which it seems is the aim for MBTA), the market value of a station naming rights deal in NYC would be far greater. But there isn’t the desire for that and as most of our stations are named after streets and tourists have a hard enough time navigating them, I’m sure most people using our network would agree.

That being said, with the investment going into Hudson Yards you’d have to imagine the MTA is silly not to be considering a naming rights deal for that new station, and there are probably enough relevant potential sponsors — coupled with the attractive location — to drive the price considerably upward from Barclays.

donald January 15, 2014 - 12:45 am

Trump should buy the naming rights to all of them. Rename every station and line ‘Trump’. Have a big picture of the Donald on all their maps.

JimD January 15, 2014 - 9:22 am

I despise the concept of selling naming rights to transit stations. Transit signage and maps are confusing enough without adding in pointless corporate names, especially those which have multiple locations in the city. Just imagine the text messages or station announcements when there is a delay (“Ladies and gentlemen, due to a medical emergency at Dinosaur Barbeque 125th Street station, all downtown 4 and 5 trains will run in local service to Five Guys Burger & Fries 42nd Street Grand Central station …).

anon January 15, 2014 - 10:43 am

If they name a station after five guys they better have burgers and fries ready for me on the platform.

ww8 January 15, 2014 - 1:00 pm


Stephen January 18, 2014 - 6:29 pm

I will see your ‘despise’ and raise you with a ‘hate.’

I go out of my way to Not buy things from corporate johns. I can’t stand seeing the ads for that joint in Brooklyn on a certain newspaper website.

From college bowl games to all the stadiums and fields and centers you can’t escape seeing their names.

And some reporters will write a name three or four times in a story. Why? Are they getting paid for each mention after the first one? It certainly is the impression I get.

Elvis Delgado January 15, 2014 - 10:46 am

I suspect that since at least some portion of the New York systems runs reasonably efficiently most of the time (despite notable exceptions and perceptions), a company might benefit by association.

In Boston – believe me – there is no station, no line, no nothing that a company could “adopt” and not suffer a huge loss in prestige. They would be far better off buying the naming rights to the Deer Island Sewage Treatment plant.

Miles Bader January 17, 2014 - 9:24 pm

Huh? I used to use (and commute on) the Boston red and green lines regularly, and they were totally fine… some of the stations were even pretty nice (Harvard Sq etc). In many ways, the system seemed nicer than NYC, e.g. generally cleaner and newer than what’s typical for NYC.

JJJJ January 15, 2014 - 4:23 pm

“Seven were injured this morning on the Legal Sea Food Red Line as a train derailed at New Balance Central Station.”

Izengabe January 22, 2014 - 9:51 pm

I’m sure Yankee fans would be willing to take up a collection to raise $1 million to buy the naming rights to Fenway Station and rename it Yankee Station. Heck the Steinbrenners should offer up the $5 million for a 5 year naming rights deal just for the free publicity of sticking it to Red Soxs fans.


Leave a Comment