WMATA is considering selling some station naming rights to corporate sponsors. Most of our contributors think that's a terrible idea. Would you want the map to look like this?
The WMATA board will discuss this issue on Thursday. Current policy is not to do it, but New York got $4 million over 20 years for adding "Barclays Center" to its Atlantic Avenue station, adjacent to Brooklyn's new arena, while Jefferson Health System paid Philadelphia $4 million for five years to rename Market East station to Jefferson. Boston offered sponsorships, but nobody bid what the MBTA was looking for.
The board presentation suggests "there may be potential station naming opportunities for WMATA at Gallery Place, Navy Yard-Ballpark, Metro Center and L’Enfant Plaza stations due to location, proximity to venues and ridership density." It notes that when the issue last arose in 2012, the public was strongly opposed to selling station naming rights, and WMATA instead pursued "station dominations," where one station is blanketed in ads for a single sponsor for a period of time. Let's hope the WMATA board decides to keep its current policy in place.
Our contributors had significant concerns. Ned Russell pointed out some good reasons to be wary:
Station naming rights tends to bring in a limited amount of funds compared to the need. When SEPTA renamed Pattison station "AT&T" in 2010, they only got $3 million for five years—a drop in the bucket of their overall budget. Considering that WMATA is a larger transit agency and the stations possibly busier, maybe they get a few million more—but to what end? Say $10 million over five years for an annual operating budget of around $1.8 billion: that's a fraction of 1%.
Second, it can remove the geography-based station names that neighborhoods have grown around. Here's an apt quote from Yonah Freemark in a 2010 post on his blog: "Removing the geography-based name and replacing it with a corporate name virtually ensures that either infrequent commuters are fated to be completely lost in a transit system with completely irrelevant station names (especially if it’s underground), or that maps and signage are threatened with being overwhelmed with multiple layers of information, some important, some not, an end product that certainly won’t add ease getting around either."
Mike Grinnell added a likely practical obstacle:
If you want to look at how this could really get screwed up just look to how confusing stadium names are today. Due to corporate sponsorship deals and companies being bought and sold names of stadiums are constantly changing. For example, the NFL stadium where the Dolphins play has changed names 10 times since 1996. Between 2009 and 2010 it had 4 different names. Now combine this with the onslaught of tourists coming in that may not be up to date with the latest corporate merger and can't find Whole Foods Market Eastern Market Station because it's now Amazon Eastern Market.
Finally, Michael Perkins argued that "the endless approvals and debates over what are appropriate sponsorship conditions and rules also have the potential to suck bandwidth away from management and the board, who should have better things to pay attention to." After all, WMATA already rejects certain types of advertising (most recently, for a book by the noxious Milo Yiannopoulos), and sponsored names would be even more fraught.
Thanks to Brent Bolin, Josh Burch, Payton Chung, David Cranor, Peter Dovak, Eric Fidler, Mike Grinnell, Stephen Hudson, Matt Johnson, Cody Keenan, Malcolm Kenton, Gregory Koch, Katy Lang, Ben Lockshin, Tracy Loh, Canaan Merchant, Bradley Peniston, Jacob Peters, Joanne Pierce, Dan Rowlands, Chris Slatt, and Steven Yates for suggesting station names in the above map.
Tell the WMATA Board: No corporate names!
Metro's board will consider the issue on Thursday. Let them know what you think (we think this is a bad idea).