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.