BOSTON -- State transportation officials, looking for new revenue, are taking a cue
from professional sports arenas and seeking corporate sponsors to purchase
naming rights for subway stations here.
Sponsorship, which would allow businesses to plaster their names on and
around stations in the nation's oldest and fourth largest subway system, could
raise as much as $20 million in the next five years, state officials said.
Boston's mass-transit corporate sponsorship plan is the first of its kind,
according to the American Public Transportation Association.
In the Bay Area, the BART Board of Directors voted Thursday to prohibit the
sale of station names, shooting down a plan by one of the directors of San
Francisco's Municipal Railway to look into slapping corporate monikers on
Metro stations. BART owns the stations it shares with the Muni in downtown San
The Massachusetts plan also has its opponents.
"This is a hucksterism that degrades history and community in favor of
crass commercialism," Ralph Nader wrote recently to Massachusetts Gov. Paul
Cellucci, a Republican who supports the plan. "Once you start selling off the
names of history, where will it end? When you rename the Harvard Square . . .
stop for McDonald's?"
Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Kevin Sullivan said the Boston
transit system is not in trouble: Its annual budget totals about $1 billion,
and the system has no debt.
More money is needed because the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority,
which runs the subway system, became financially independent last year for
the first time in its 104-year history. Federal support for public
transportation has declined, and transit fares, raised to $1 last year along
metropolitan Boston routes, remain among the lowest in the nation.
"This is to inoculate the (transportation authority) down the road against
any larger increase that may be necessary in terms of rate restructuring,"
"The fact is that it does not help to go back to the riders to put onerous
rates on them, which will turn them away from public transportation and get
them back into the automobiles that Mr. Nader finds so distasteful," he said.
State officials will not accept sponsorships from alcohol or tobacco
companies, Sullivan said. The state's transportation department continues to
fight a lawsuit brought by a pro-marijuana group seeking subway advertising
The transportation authority intends for names to go to established
A subway station is not a sports stadium, however, and Massachusetts
officials might be overly optimistic in their revenue projections for an
arrangement that one marketer said has "virtually no value."
Promotional opportunities are limited, hyphenated names can decrease the
value of naming rights by 70 percent and no one can guarantee corporate
longevity or name stability, said Dean Bonham, chairman of the Denver-based
Bonham Group Inc., a sports and entertainment marketing firm.
"Any company that writes a check for $20 million or even $5 million is
writing a check either because they are philanthropically inclined or mentally
challenged," Bonham said. "The public officials in Massachusetts shouldn't
expect to see a line of corporate executives around the block with checkbooks
in their hip pockets."
Commuters offered mixed opinions recently at South End/Back Bay station,
its facade draped with advertising banners for Macintosh computers.
One woman said the terminal would feel like entering another "walk-in
commercial" in a city that lost the Boston Garden and gained the Fleet Center.
"It's almost dehumanizing the history of Boston," said Rebecca-Starr Price,
Tom Magee, a longtime station vendor, suggested private sponsors could be
good, especially for a terminal with no heat. "They might decide to put some
money in this building," he said, his breath misting in the chilly air.
Some private institutions already have subway stop naming rights for free,
including Harvard University, the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Fine
Arts and Prudential Insurance, but they might have to pay in the future.
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle