June 30, 2009
There's the TECO Line Streetcar System in Tampa, sponsored by Tampa Electric. The HealthLine bus line in Cleveland, sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. And if all goes as planned, there will be a Barclays Center subway stop in Brooklyn by 2012. Municipalities facing shrinking budgets are turning increasingly to the private sector to fund public services, offering up naming rights in exchange for cash.In principal, I can't stand corporate naming rights. I used to really appreciate the fact that all three of Cleveland's major sports venues (Browns Stadium, Gund Arena, and Jacobs Field) had avoided the wrath of giant corporations. But I guess the renaming was inevitable, and now only Browns Stadium retains a unique name.
On the other hand, I'd rather see a public transit system with corporate names on lines and stations than a system that has to cut service and raise fares because it doesn't have enough cash. It seems like this is easier said than done, unfortunately. You can't just go around renaming transit stations willy nilly. Every renamed station or line has to be reflected on signage and maps. In the 90s, when Congress wanted to rename one of the Washington Metrorail's stations after Ronald Reagan, the price tag came in at about $400,000. Presumably, of course, the corporate sponsor would cover the cost in this instance. But it's also difficult from a PR perspective. When a visitor shows up in New York City with an outdated map and can't figure out where the McDonalds Big Mac station is or how to get on the Goldman Sachs Moneyline, it doesn't shine a good light on the city. And I imagine getting old maps out of circulation could easily take years.
Now, renaming multiple stations all at one time may not incur much additional marginal cost, but trying to auction off bulk naming rights anywhere and everywhere in the middle of a recession would probably yield much less revenue than it otherwise might. But I guess desperate times call for desperate measures.